If you like eggs, there's nothing else quite like them. They are called huevos de patio, or "back-yard eggs," here in Yucatán.
That means that these eggs come from hens kept in the back patio of a house. Of course quality varies depending upon how the chickens are fed and cared for, but usually it means that these are what a friend of mine used to call "happy chicken eggs."
The hens producing these eggs don't spend their lives in tiny cages under artificial lights, being pumped full of chemical-laden industrial feed and hormones. Instead, they run around outdoors, squabble amongst themselves, take dust baths, scratch for bugs, worms, tender green herbs and sprouts, and probably mate frequently with a rooster. In the world of chickens they lead social, fulfilled lives.
Last Sunday, as I occasionally do, I visited with friends in Abalá, a pueblo less than an hour's drive from Mérida. Often when I am in the pueblo we take a walk, visiting one of the local cenotes, birdwatching, searching for orchids and unusual wildflowers, or perhaps walking the paths out to the ranch and looking at the family's twenty-or-so head of cattle. However on this visit, by the time we got to the pueblo the weather was already pretty hot, so we spent the remainder of the day staying in the shade and not moving too much.
The result was that we had plenty of time to hang out with the chickens. We prepared the daily feeding that supplements what the birds find foraging in the yard and made sure they had fresh, cool water. A bit later we shooed the birds into the coop so that the hens could lay in clean, dry grass where the eggs would be easy to gather later on.
There are about a dozen laying hens here, and three roosters. Although they mostly look alike to me, I have discovered that their keepers know each animal individually. I now know which hens are the best layers, and that one, although fully grown now, has never laid an egg. She may be headed on a one-way trip to the kitchen one of these days. The same holds for a confused rooster who jealously fights to keep the other males away from the hens, but never mates with them himself.
I learned about the old great-great-grandmother white hen who continues to lay as prolifically as a youngster although at the age of five or six she ought to be far past her prime. There were some jokes that the secret of her youthfulness has to do with "getting plenty" of attention from a much younger rooster. She is prized for her large eggs and is a favorite, more like a pet, in this family.
Although they may know their stock pretty well, country people who raise their own food normally don't get too sentimental about animals. Chickens around here rarely die of old age. Although the old white hen may be an exception, most of these birds eventually end up in dishes like the rich mole we ate Sunday afternoon. The killing is not something anyone in the family likes to do, but it is necessary if they are occasionally going to eat meat. And culling older and less-productive animals makes room for the younger generations.
But the best reason in my book for having chickens in the patio is for the eggs. These huevos de patio are organic and fresh daily. Eating these eggs, we know exactly what we are consuming. Sunday evening after getting home from Abalá I ate an omelet made from eggs that I had gathered, still warm from the hens' bodies, that very afternoon. It doesn't get much better than that.
You may be wondering why there are no photos of the chickens. The reason is that until I got home with the eggs pictured above and ate that omelet, I wasn't planning to write a post about this. But the omelet was that good. I'll try to write again about the backyard chickens, and include photos, in a future post.
Text and images copyright 2014 by Marc Olson