Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Marans

We keep Marans and they lay the most beautiful dark chocolate coloured eggs – apparently these are "the hens that lay James Bond's favourite eggs". Fleming wrote that when in London, Bond maintained a simple routine. Sitting down to The Times, he breakfasts on two large cups of "very strong coffee . . .and an egg served in a dark blue egg cup with a gold ring round the top, boiled for 3 1/3rd minutes. There is also whole wheat toast, Jersey butter and a choice of Tiptree 'Little Scarlet' strawberry jam, Cooper's Vintage Oxford marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum and Mason, served on blue Minton china. Breakfast is prepared by May, his Scottish housekeeper, whose friend supplies the brown eggs from French Marans hens.

Marans are named after the town of Marans which is an Atlantic port, about 12 miles north of La Rochelle, at the mouth of the River Sevre. The canal system there forms the famous Marais Poitevin, more often known as the Green Venice. Fens, often covered in briny water during the winter high tides, wrapped in mist at night, surround the town. Marans were bred here in the marshy areas and can cope with damper conditions. Since Roman times, Marans has been a port specialized in cereals that arrived mainly by river or canal from the surrounding regions. This favoured the development of poultry farming and ships used to carry live chickens on their voyages.

However, it was not until 1880 that the Marans started to appreciate a widespread reputation, due largely to the rivalry between two brothers, both poultry merchants in London. One of them was one of the biggest wholesalers of white Russian eggs, then the most important poultry producing country in Europe. His brother, whose ships often docked at Marans, had the idea of competing with the white Russian egg trade by selling the dark brown eggs of Marans which were bigger and fresher. There are 4 recognized varieties of Marans: Black, Dark Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, and Silver Cuckoo.

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