Foraging is pretty slim this time of year. There are seaweeds, and tenacious frozen cranberries, but this is not the season of plenty. In colder months I get lazy, and forage from my friends.
It is mutual. We live in a seasonal community, and seem to have more time to connect when the days are short. I had gathered several quarts of cranberries a few weeks ago, and someone I work with wanted to make cranberry relish for a party. I brought her a bag of our winter cranberries. Last week a friend gave me a bowl filled with tiny, brown and cream-speckled eggs. They were quail eggs. He had gotten them from another friend, who had far more than she could use.
Quail eggs! I had eaten them once or twice before, but never cooked with them. They were so beautiful sitting in a bowl on the counter that it took some resolve to crack them open. First I simply fried a couple, to see how they tasted. They are eggs, and taste pretty much like a chicken egg. I want to say they had a stronger, richer flavor, but I am not convinced. I then boiled a couple, and can say pretty firmly that the texture is smoother and creamier than a chicken egg’s.
It is their beauty and charm that I find most appealing. We hard-boiled a dozen of them for appetizers. I had toasted thin slices of dark bread, spread them with horseradish-cheddar then a slice of locally smoked ham, and planned to top them with a half of these adorable eggs.
We were going to one of those parties where everyone dresses in costumes from the eighteen hundreds, and I love getting dressed up as much as I love food. After I helped my husband into his tails and helped tie his bowtie I asked him to prepare the little eggs. He wisely asked for instruction. He knows I care about how things are cut. I had my mind on turning my hair into ringlets and remembering where my elbow length gloves were, and simply said, “Cut them the same way as if you were going to make devilled eggs.”
When I came back to the kitchen he said they had been easy to peel, and proudly showed me his pile of eggs, looking like an army of Humpty Dumpties with their heads cut off. I should have remembered that when I married this man, and suggested he switch from frozen eggbeaters to real farm eggs, he was very agreeable but puzzled. Holding an oval brown egg in his hand he asked, “How do you open it?”
The decapitated quail eggs were still cute, half of them were big round bottoms, and half were pointy tops. We skewered them to the bread and ham with a toothpick, and had one of the easiest and coolest looking appetizers ever.
We don’t raise or hunt quail, but a friendly exchange of goods brought quail eggs to our larder. We passed cranberries to someone else. This is not barter, which I also love, but simply a giving and a getting. When I barter, we usually use dollars as a common denominator. “I gave you 20.00 dollars worth of rhubarb, you will give me twenty dollars worth of bread.” That is business. This friendly foraging is gifting.
We may give someone potatoes because we have plenty, and they would like some. We may get nothing in return, but we do not expect anything.
We were given a gift of quail eggs. This is community. We all share what we have, and we all benefit. Research suggests these speckled eggs may not have much more value than a hen egg. But research is wrong. Those eggs carry an abundance of spirit, the spirit of our village and friends, and I cannot think of anything more valuable than that.