Fresh Eggs from the Orto

There are two things I am afraid of when I have lunch with the Bartolini’s. The first is the constant fear that the conversation will go so far off on a tangent that I’ll be completely lost. Loretta and Ronald once laughed when they saw that Enrica, Loretta’s mom, had cornered me in what appeared to be an intense conversation. Intense for me because they could see that I was desparately trying to keep up.

“Now it’s your turn.” They joked. “You know she’s telling you the same story over and over again.

What did I care. It took me at least three times before I understood the story completely — and they are good stories filled with bits of information and innuendo about locals. It’s practice for me and an attentive ear for her — ‘win, win’ I think.

The second thing I’m afraid of — the tip off being when everyone is quiet and they’re watching me eat — is that there is something on my plate that used to be hopping around the backyard. It’s enough to make me want to go vegetarian.

“Taste this.” As some meat is put in front of me.

The sauce is fragrant and there are small pools of delicious olive oil that make me want to dip my bread in it immediately. From their staring, I’m sure I’m being served Thumper stew. (Which cute little rabbit was this one? Probably the one that kept getting out of the rabbit hutch. Enrica would surely have knocked that one off when she finally caught it. At 83, the rabbits could out-run her but not really out-smart her.)

Over lunch, I was told that there were new chickens. I looked at the whitish meat in the serving dish and wondered. I thought the arrival of new chickens would certainly warrant the cleaning out of the chicken coop so I had to go out and see them. They looked just like the old chickens and the coop was just as dirty. (I often come by the Bartolini’s with a bag of scraps — cut up melon rinds, apple cores, banana peels, and stale bread — my contribution for ‘i gallini.’ However, when faced with a three-day-old pot of this biodegradable mush, I can’t understand how even a chicken can stand it.)

“What do you worry for. The chickens don’t mind.’ Says the ever pragatic Loretta.

I ask Enrica why she bought new chickens and she tells me the others died. Making a little gesture as if they fell asleep.

“Did you kill them?” I asked straight out to which she protested. I don’t know why she was surprised at my question given her tendencies for offing the rabbits. She said they just died of old age. She reassured me that they don’t eat an animal that has died on its own. Still, I was wary.

Anyway, the point of this is that Enrica gave me some eggs from the new chickens. She held the new eggs up to show that they were small — only about two inches long.

“Bo.” Enrica said with a shrug.

Then she pulled from her apron an enormous egg. Her eyes glimmered as she placed the prize in my hand.

“THIS,” she said, “is an egg.” At over 3 inches long, I thought it was a goose egg but Enrica assured me it was from the last of the old chickens.

“Ouch.” I thought.

“The others are too young yet.” She explained. “Good for eating at this point but not so good at laying eggs.”

She turned and smiled at the gallini and they scattered.