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Spinach & Eggs From The City Farm

May 1, 2016
by the gentle author

The May blossom at the Spitalfields City Farm was still in bloom under a blue sky to welcome me when I arrived in search of spinach & eggs, in anticipation of one of my all-time favourite lunches. At the far end of the farmyard, I was greeted by Helen Galland, the animals’ manager, whom I interrupted from her mucking-out duties to sell me half a dozen freshly laid eggs. I deliberated between hens’ and ducks’ eggs so Helen kindly gave me three of each, £1 for the lot.

The Spitalfields flock is a mixture of rare breeds (Marsh Daisies and Buff Orpingtons) and rescued chickens, bought by a charity from battery farms that would otherwise destroy the hens after a year’s life of producing an egg a day, when they still have another four to five years of life left laying eggs. “When they arrive they have to learn to be chickens because they have never seen anything but the inside of a cage before, so the first thing they do when they arrive is lie in the sun.” explained Helen with maternal sympathy, as the flock ran around our ankles pecking in the yard, “In factory farms, they have no nesting materials but they soon get the hang of it here.”

I stowed the half-dozen eggs in my bag and walked over to the other end of the farm where the vegetables are grown. Here, Chris Kyei-Balffour, a community gardener, led me into the humid atmosphere of one of the polytunnels to admire a fine patch of spinach that he grew, glowing fresh and green with new leaves in the filtered sunlight. To my delight, Chris picked me a basket of the most beautiful fresh spinach I ever saw and presented it to me. We shook hands and it was my privilege to buy this spinach for £1. Thanks to Helen and Chris, I carried my ingredients of spinach & eggs away for a mere £2. Anyone can buy produce at the city farm, you just have to go and ask. Let me admit, I was pulling out spinach leaves from the bag and eating them in the street, unable to resist their tangy sweet flavour, as I walked home, hungry to cook lunch.

Although spinach & eggs is one of the simplest of meals, careful judgement is required to ensure both ingredients are cooked just enough. It is a question of precise timing to ensure the perfect balance of the constituents. I steamed the spinach lightly while I poached the eggs in salted water. The leaves need to be blanched but must not become slushy because texture is everything with spinach, it needs to be gelatinous yet chewy.

Once the spinach was on, I broke three hens’ eggs, slipping them gently into a pan of simmering water and poached them until the white of the egg was cooked but the yolk remained runny. Be aware, you have to be careful not to break the yolks when you drop the eggs into the water and some concentration is required to master the knack of scooping then out intact too. I have ruined the aesthetics of my spinach & eggs on innumerable occasions with a casual blunder at this stage, though I can assure you the meal still remains acceptable to the taste buds even if you top your spinach with pitiful fragments of poached egg.

I served a generous portion of my delicious spinach in an old soup dish and – blessed with good luck – I balanced all three eggs on top, perfectly intact and wobbling like jellies. With eggs freshly laid that morning and spinach picked half an hour before I ate it, the ingredients could not have been fresher. No vocabulary exists to explain fully why I like this combination so much, it is something about what happens when you recklessly slice through the egg and the hot golden yolk runs down into the slippery seaweed green spinach. You have to try it for yourself because the combination of the sweet yolk and almost-bitter spinach is astounding.

With the addition of a little ground black pepper and grated parmesan on the top, I carried the spinach & eggs outside into the garden triumphantly, enjoying my lunch in the sunshine for the first time this year. The anachronism of eating my meal of ingredients fresh from the local farm, here in the secret green enclave of my garden in the heart of Spitalfields only served to amplify the pleasure. It was an unforgettable moment of Spring.

Chris Kyei-Balffour and his fine crop of spinach

A Buff Orpington

Kellogg the cockerell and a Marsh Daisy hen

A refugee from a factory farm

A Buff Orpington Bantam

My lunch

21 Responses leave one →
  1. May 1, 2016

    Sounds like a wonderful walk with a great lunch as reward. Valerie

  2. May 1, 2016

    The chickens look remarkably well for ex-battery hens.

    A great lunch

  3. Corvin permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Favourite lunch no Truman’s?

  4. May 1, 2016

    This is G A at his very best, this time they are looking after our food welfare as well. His meal recipe is very original all the detail is there. They certainly looked after our authoe on the day. My main message here is well done the City Farm movement specially those dedicated people at Spitalfields City Farm. I just love fowls good pics. Marsh Daisy hens are new to me they must be rare, they seem sweet gentle birds ones you wont to pick up and stroke. John

  5. Annie G permalink
    May 1, 2016

    This post, like the combination of eggs and spinach, is perfection.
    Why is spinach so great? I don’t know but – here’s a secret – if people say they don’t like it, I like them a little less.

  6. May 1, 2016

    The Gentle Author cookery season, hurrah!
    looks delish and once again you have inspired me to do the same sometime soon
    thanks xx

  7. rebecca lane permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Looks delicious – and “syn free” for all of us fat dieters

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great piece. Wow, that spinach doesn’t look like the kind I get around here in a cellophane bag. Nothing like fresh,eh?

    Wonderful pics too….

  9. Toni Bracher permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful real life story. Freshly grown spinach, rescued chickens finally enjoying life and laying eggs – making such a dish on a spring morning – could almost taste it!

  10. pauline taylor permalink
    May 1, 2016

    A lovely story, something to cheer us all up after a, so far, miserable spring. Thank you GA.

    Factory farms should be banned, we will never, knowingly buy any eggs from them! It is shocking that we should ever treat any living creature with such cruelty.

  11. May 1, 2016

    Spinach and eggs sounds delicious. I’ve only just discovered this wonderful blog, I’m not a Londoner but I had a stall on the Sunday craft market for a couple of years (97 – 98).

    We’re having spinach tonight with butter, garlic and grated Parmigiano.

    I look forward to reading more and taking in the wonderful photos…..

  12. Mike permalink
    May 1, 2016

    A lovely, heart-warming tale for a beautiful and sunny day. Many thanks GA

  13. Linda Granfield permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Now you’ve done it!
    Show-and-tell time that makes my mouth water. I will find an equally lovely soup plate, even if I can’t get the fresh eggs and spinach. And shall enjoy an early lunch full of Canadian spring.
    Thanks, as ever.

  14. Katya permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Thank you for this delightful, sympatico Spring story with its lovely photos and perfect recipe.
    I happen to have spinach from a Brooklyn farm (yes!) and some local eggs, so can’t wait for lunch today!

  15. BPL permalink
    May 1, 2016

    Just lovely. And to think of these battery hens happy simply feeling the sun–it gives a new level of emotion to a quiet morning.

  16. Rachel permalink
    May 2, 2016

    I’ve wondered where the name Eggs Benedict comes from for this dish? A favourite of mine too.

  17. May 2, 2016

    Greetings from Australia.

    I have a family connection with the Spitalfields area. In the 16th century a ancestor fled to London to escape death from Brugge. He did very well as a silk merchant. His name was Vercolge, and my direct ancestor married his daughter.

    Not for the first time I was shocked when I read about the fate of battery hens. My fate in humanity always slips a little more after I read of such cruelty.

    Thanks for the story – I loved it.

    Annie G. I feel the same way when people say that they hate cats. They can dislike, but never hate.

  18. May 2, 2016

    And what a lovely plate, too!

  19. Irena permalink
    May 14, 2016

    Sounds like perfection; what wonderful writing and photographs! I’m a latecomer to this blog but looking forward to catching up. Greetings from my own paradise in France, where I get fresh eggs and sorrel from my neighbours.

  20. Gioconda permalink
    June 10, 2016

    Kellogg is a very handsome bird! When I recall how a factory farm looks here in the States, with the chickens unable to stand up or move about, I want to scream. No wonder the eggs they produce don’t smell or taste good.

    Your description of lunch was so luscious, I am fraught with envy. Also hungry. Thanks for sharing your lovely day!

  21. July 20, 2016

    I look forward every day to Spitalfields Life but only just found this particular blog….(think I was out of country when it first appeared)

    As a retired senior lecturer in professional cookery I love your description, and picture, of the eggs and spinach…(known in the trade as Oeufs poches Florentine) Obvious from the firm shape of the eggs that they were very fresh! and spinach looks perfect too
    Many thanks for your daily dose of wonderful writing….not sure if I’ll be around when you finish your mission as I’ll be 93 by then….one can but hope! Dave.

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