The Chickens & the Eggs

(No, This is Not About Which Came 1st)

by Anne Evans

Prior to arriving on the Island, I had begun to lose awareness of senses other than vision and taste – in particular, sounds. Most sounds in Miami (where we lived for the last 4 months prior to our transition to Grand Cayman) were annoying – traffic, honking, voices reflecting human aggression. However, when we arrived on Grand Cayman, all that changed. The first sounds that I became keenly aware of were from roosters crowing and chickens cackling.  We quickly learned that chickens rule as the dominant avian species on this Island, and they are everywhere! Crowing is the first sound you hear in the morning and the last you hear at night. Perhaps this is why local eggs are among the most affordable animal protein on the Island?

I found myself tuning in to listen to bird calls in general.  If I hear a bird call that’s not a chicken or rooster, I now stop and look for the source. One morning while jogging, I heard an unfamiliar bird call. I stopped, looked up, and was treated to the sight of a Cayman Parrot – the only wild Parrot on the Cayman Islands – sitting on a telephone wire. Take note as well, the bird on the reverse side of a Cayman penny is a thrush (Turdus ravidus), a now extinct bird endemic to Grand Cayman. Unique waterfowl abound on these Islands.

Cayman’s wild chickens are a controversial matter.

And why did Grand Cayman develop a massive feral chicken population?  Some sources suggest that free-range local chicken was once part of the staple diet in Cayman, with many families keeping a coop in their backyards. As Cayman became modernized, people stopped keeping chickens for consumption and poultry was left to roam the land. While many complain that the chickens mess up their gardens, crow at all hours of the day and night and are traffic hazards, others see them as part and parcel of the tradition and culture of the island.

Personally, chickens are not my favorite avian species. And indeed, their constant crowing and cackling can be annoying. However, I do not see that their presence threatens the well-being of endemic species. Perhaps their presence can be redirected to provide a lower cost source of sustainable protein on the Island?

Shopping for Chicken on Grand Cayman

At the time of this writing, if you purchase chicken in one of Grand Cayman’s major grocery stores, you will not find (or perhaps I should say, I have not yet been able to find) domestic chickens. Some familiar US brands are there (e.g., Tyson) and some brands previously unfamiliar to me (The Best Dressed Chicken, a product from Jamaica). The offerings, in my opinion, are limited. Pre-packaged, boneless, skinless chicken breasts predominate priced at roughly KY$5.50/lb. There are also whole chickens (approx. KY$2.30/lb), bone-in, skin on/bone in thighs and an abundance of … chicken feet! (KY$3.39/lb; source not specified). Assume for all pricing provided that KY$1 = US$1.25

If you want to find domestically raised chicken for consumption, go to the Farmers Market at Cricket Grounds and get to know those that provide this product, At the time of this writing, the following are my favorite vendor’s pricing in KY$ of his domestically raised chicken products:

Boneless/skinless Breasts KY$6

Whole Bird KY$4.5

Boneless Thighs KY$5.5.  Skin-on/bone-in thighs KY$4.5.

Wings, Drums and Livers KY$4

Frames and Necks KY$2.5

So, why is domestically raised chicken so much more than that offered in the Grocery stores, you might ask? Well, because:

  • Domestically raised chicken are not “massed produced.” Do you really want to know the details of the “life” of a mass-produced chicken? Domestically produced lead “the good life” until it is time to have it humanely ended.
  • They have the opportunity to roam, have personal space, enjoy sunshine plus good food. Every heard the phrase, “you are what you eat? This quality care is reflected in how much better they taste.
  • And indeed, the product is fresh. To quote my favorite vendor, “Clucking today, cooking tomorrow”

Choosing to purchase domestically raised chickens helps support the local agricultural community and Cayman’s effort to move these Islands toward being self-sustaining with regards to food production.

How to Bake and Cook Using US Versus Grand Cayman Locally Sourced Farm Fresh Eggs

In the US

Eggs are standardized and sold by size. The following table explains the standards for US eggs which are sold by size based on weight per dozen eggs (e.g., a carton of a dozen large eggs weighs in total 24.0 oz. Thus, on average, each egg weighs approximately 2.0 oz (although there may be some variations within a carton of each egg’s exact weight). Be aware that eggs from other countries have differing standards:

Egg Size (US)SmallMediumLargeExtra LargeJumbo
Weight Including Shell (oz/gm)  1.5/42.5  1.75/49.6  2.0/56.8  2.25/63.8  2.5/70.9
Volume of whole egg w/o Shell (tbsp/ml)    —  3.00/43  3.25/46  4.00/56  4.75/61

Most US recipes call for Large or Extra-Large Eggs. If the recipe does not specify the size of eggs, assume it is best to use a Large Egg. Some recipes are forgiving (e.g., scrambled eggs, omelets, frittatas). However, some recipes are not (e.g., Angel Food cakes, souffles, custards) and it is important to measure by liquid volume of the eggs. When a recipe requires separated eggs (especially egg whites), but fails to specify the volume required, it’s a bad omen.

On Grand Cayman

In the major grocery stores on-Island, it is easy to find familiar US brands of standardized eggs ranging in size from Large to Jumbo plus all the confusing nuances of “organic”, “cage free”, “free range”. And, you will pay a significant premium for purchasing US imported eggs because of their “brand recognition”. At the time of this writing, eggs are expensive everywhere (including TCI) and are priced at roughly KY$6-$12/dozen depending on brand and perceived quality. If you look carefully, you occasionally will also find domestically produced eggs (these are generally brown eggs of unspecified size; price varies, however generally KY$4.50-$5.50.)

If you go to the Farmers Market at Cricket Grounds and the vendor knows you, currently expect KY$5.00/dozen; if the vendor thinks you are a tourist, then expect a markup of KY$0.50 – $1.00/dozen). 

One of the issues is (as in other geographic areas) egg prices are on a “roller coaster,” so the prices I site are at this point in time are mostly intended to provide relative comparisons.

The second issue is that there is no standardization of domestically produced eggs, and egg production on The Cayman Islands currently is not regulated. I weighed each egg in shell from a carton locally sourced that I recently purchased, and this is what I found:

#4 2 oz = US Large

#3 2.125 0z

#3 2.25 oz = US Extra Large

#2 2.375 oz

These were very reassuring results as there were no small or medium eggs which could seriously affect my baking, if I were unaware and assumed that they were at least large. That said, size may vary by purveyor.

The third issue is that local production of eggs cannot yet meet local needs. Efforts are being made to escalate local egg production, efficiency, productivity, and standardization.   Bottom Line: if you are baking with eggs, whether US imported or Cayman Islands domestically produced, pay attention to their weight and volume to ensure the best outcome in your recipe. And if you are baking here on Grand Cayman, buy local eggs (and recycle your egg cartons) to support the opportunity to ensure that this domestic market flourishes.

If ai cannot solve a problem by baking a cookie, I cannot deal with it

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