As the current issue of Westport magazine suggests, enthusiasm for growing one’s own food has begun to reach beyond tending a few rows of beans and tomatoes. “Tales from the Henhouse” spotlights several families who’ve taken an extra step in the locavore movement, raising hens in a backyard coop and producing a constant supply of fresh eggs for baking, cooking, and, if the flock is a large one, gifting neighbors and friends.
Dara and Joe Mechanic, neighbors of Westport’s Wakeman Town Farm, were intrigued by the idea, and researched the steps involved in chicken keeping. To prepare, Joe transformed an unused backyard shed into a coop, adding a wire-enclosed run to serve as protected exercise space. When the family’s dozen fluffy mail-order chicks arrived, the adventure began. As they grew to egg-laying size, the mixed flock’s personalities and antics captivated the couple and their four daughters. This brood was downright inspiring.
“All the hens have names,” notes Dara, starting with Dover, the Delaware hen who rules the roost, and taught the family that “pecking order” is more than a phrase. The flock, a mix of breeds that produce eggs in a variety of colors, has not only given the family the ingredients for many delicious recipes. The hens have also become a source for essays and research papers by the Mechanic daughters. And one day a few months ago, looking out the window at the coop, Joe hatched the plot for a children’s book. As one would suspect, it’s about a family who raises chickens.
“I was watching my wife and youngest daughter feed them. I’ve read so many books to my daughters that the story just kind of flowed out naturally,” Joe recalls.
Even Joe’s 86 year old father, Murray Darvick, found himself hen-spired. A watercolorist for more than sixty years, he’s illustrating his son’s book with paintings of the Mechanic birds.
And the recipes? Joe shares one, along with the fact that fresh-from-the-nest hens’ eggs have deep-yellow yolks, and make omelets that far surpass in taste any counterpart made with the store-bought variety.
“One of our favorite dinners is eggs over easy on top of spaghetti, with crumbled bacon, homemade Parmesan breadcrumbs, and fresh Italian parsley. It's sort of a take on spaghetti carbonara, but it’s more like bacon and eggs for dinner.”
“It’s delicious,” he adds.