Adam Henson: Real eggs for Easter

Old Cotswold Legbar Free range eggs with pastel coloured shells in a bowl on a blue and white stripe

The distinctive pastel-coloured shells of Old Cotswold Legbar eggs - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Farming life in the Cotswolds with the Countryfile presenter

For millions of us, Easter will always mean eggs. But I’m not thinking of the foil-wrapped chocolate variety; instead my mind’s on the genuine article (and the hens that lay them, of course).  

The British Isles is home to a wide and wonderful array of poultry which have been bred, and cross-bred, for generations. And if you thought one chook was pretty much the same as the next, the fact is that more than 100 different chicken breeds are recognised by the Poultry Club of Great Britain. About 40 of them are on the rare breeds list, too, some with very extravagant names like the Andalusian, the British Faverolles and the Sicilian Buttercup. It’s hard to imagine any farmyard without picturing a little brood of hens fluttering and clucking as they scratch the ground, pecking for food.  

And sure enough, our farm in the Cotswolds has been home to a flock of colourful, characterful birds for as long as I can remember. These days they’re mostly Pekins and Brahmas, and we also have an Indian Game cockerel, which despite its international-sounding name, is a breed that was actually developed in Cornwall as a meat bird back in Victorian times. But it’s good to shake things up a bit and last year, before the avian flu restrictions kicked in, we introduced a few new breeds to the flock to add a little diversity to our collection. The new arrivals included three showy, strutting breeds all with strong European roots: the Padovana, Campine and Appenzeller; originally from Italy, Belgium and Switzerland respectively.  

And in exactly the same way that hens come in all sorts of styles, sizes and colours, so their eggs differ too. The eggs that most of us buy in shops and supermarkets are mainly from highly-productive hens which are bred to lay an egg every day (that makes commercial sense). But our breeds follow the sunshine and the seasons, so the little Pekins and the hefty Brahmas will produce eggs regularly only in the spring and summer when there’s plenty of daylight. In my part of the world, the local chicken breeds are the Burford Brown and the delightfully named Old Cotswold Legbar.  

The Burford is a striking bird with silky black feathers, which was first bred commercially in the 1940s; it lays beautiful dark brown eggs which have glossy shells and thick, golden yolks. In fact the eggs are so good that they’re used by the top chefs including Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein. But if you’re after an egg to match the wallpaper, it’s an Old Cotswold Legbar you want. They produce eggs with thick pastel-coloured shells; most are pale blue, but more than one in ten Cotswold Legbars lay pink eggs. It’s quite a shock to see one of those when you open the egg box! If you didn’t know better, you’d swear someone had been at work with a paint brush. But there’s no mistaking the taste, because Cotswold Legbar yolks are renowned for being rich, creamy and full of flavour.  

For centuries, eggs have been a symbol of new life and rebirth, and it’s easy to see why they’ve represented the idea of resurrection to people all over the world for so long. I’ll certainly start Easter Sunday with a freshly-laid egg, which I’ll pick in person from one of the ladies in the hen house a few yards from my front door. An early morning treat on a special day of the year. 

Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamHenson

Cotswold Farm Park, 01451 850307; cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk