Roast Mushroom & Kale Frittata + The true meaning of ‘free range’

Kale & Mushroom Frittata | she cooks, she gardens
Late last month, I was invited to attend the Humane Society Free Range breakfast. The Humane Society has been around since the early 90s and their focus is on creating an ecologically sustainable and humane world for animals. The purpose of the breakfast was to present 18,000 signed postcards to the Deputy Premier John Rau in support of his proposal to cap stocking densities for eggs labelled as ‘free range’.

When you buy your eggs from a supermarket you are likely to find three choices – cage, barn and free range. Free range eggs are often touted as the most humane option as it means the hen has been free to roam around outside instead of being crammed into a small shed with thousands of other hens. Sadly, it has become increasingly evident that free-range does not always mean what we expect it to.

egg postcard

The current industry standard for free-range production is 1,500 birds per hectare. This standard is set by government bodies and is currently under review. Late last year the Australian Egg Corporation called for this industry standard to be increased to 20,000 birds per hectare. It also admitted that some facilities are stocking closer to 30 to 40,000 hens per hectare and still labelling their eggs as free range.  The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was called upon to investigate the matter and found that increasing the standard would likely result in consumers being deceived.

In January of this year Coles introduced their own standard for ‘free range’ egg production which allows stocking densities of up to 10,000 hens per hectare. Then, in July of this year, the Queensland government changed its regulation of the use of the word ‘free range’, lifting the number of hens per hectare from 1,500 to an astounding 10,000.

Ever wondered what that might look like? Check out this video….

It can be so hard as a consumer to know whether you are doing the right thing, whether the eggs you are buying are truly free range or if you are being had and it is easy to feel overwhelmed as a result. It’s certainly tough out there but it’s not all bad news.

As Queensland was increasing their free range egg guidelines the South Australian government was considering whether to establish a voluntary industry code for free range eggs that would enable consumers to know when they were buying the real deal. This move was met with overwhelming support and at the breakfast I attended 18,000 postcards were delivered to Mr Rau to demonstrate that he had the support of South Aussie consumers.

The new code, while voluntary, will help consumers determine whether or not the eggs they are buying are truly free range as they will be able to display a sticker that states they are ‘South Australian Laid, Free Range Egg Code Compliant’. There are already accreditation schemes in place that enable you as a consumer to determine whether your eggs are the real deal, the Humane Society for example, run an accreditation scheme that limits the number of hens to 1,500 per hectare and outlaws the practice of beak trimming. The proposed code is an extension of this type of scheme and the first such scheme to be regulated at a state level.

If you’re not sure whether the eggs you are buying are indeed the ‘real deal’ then keep an eye out for a free-range accreditation sticker on the carton. It’s not enough just to buy the pack that says ‘free range’, especially if you’re shopping at one of the big chain supermarkets. A handy guide on this can be found here.


Roast Mushroom & Kale Frittata

At the breakfast I received some gorgeous Katham Springs biodynamic free range eggs. The yolks were lovely and golden and perfect for this luscious frittata made with yoghurt, kale and roasted mushrooms.

Roast Mushroom & Kale Fritatta
 
Prep time
Cook time
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This simple one pot meal makes use of gorgeous free range eggs, roast mushrooms and kale.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 1 cup brown mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 tspn minced garlic
  • ½ tspn ground cumin
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme, roughly chopped
  • 6-8 black olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 tbspn slivered almonds
  • 1 tbspn rice bran oil
  • Pinch of salt and cracked black pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup natural yoghurt
  • 2 tbspns of parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbspn fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 8-10 kale leaves, finely chopped
  • 30g blue cheese (or other salty cheese of choice)
Method
  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and grease a small ovenproof pan with a little cooking spray.
  2. Add mushrooms, garlic, cumin, thyme, olives, almonds, oil and seasoning to the well-greased pan and toss well to coat.
  3. Pop in the oven for 10-12 minutes.
  4. While the mushrooms are roasting, add the eggs to a medium sized bowl and whisk.
  5. Add the yoghurt, parmesan and dill and mix well.
  6. Remove the pot from the oven; add the kale followed by the egg mixture. Gently push the mushrooms around the pan to encourage an even coverage.
  7. Sprinkle the top with blue cheese and pop back in the oven for another 15 minutes (or so), until the top is golden and it is cooked in centre.
  8. Serve with a green garden salad.
 

Disclaimer: I dined courtesy of the Humane Society and received a dozen free-range eggs, some of which I used to prepare this dish. There was no expectation for me to write this post – I proudly support this important issue and receive no payment for doing so. If you’d like to find out more about this campaign please check out the campaign website: humanechoice.com.au

15 Comments

  • thank you for covering this important issue, erin. i am lucky that i can usually get proper ‘happy’ eggs from my mum’s happy chickens, but there are times when i need to buy them from the shop. it’s a minefield, because what can you do but trust the label? i’m going to check out your link on the guide, and definitely not buy coles own brand of ‘free range’ eggs anymore.
    thank you again – and delish looking fritatta!

  • It’s so sad that the big supermarket chains have such an influence over something like this. They should have to print the density on the carton so you can truly know what you’re buying. It’s just so unfair that people think they’re doing the right thing but are actually being conned! All the more reason for me to get my own chickens I say.
    Love the look of this fritata.

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Claire, I hear you – it’s really hard when you want to be ethical and make the right choices, to know that there are people out there trying to deliberately mislead consumers about the true nature of the produce they are buying. I’d love to have my own chooks too.

  • It’s for this exact reason I plan to get my own chickens.
    Thanks for sharing your delicious recipe. I have so much kale, I plan to make this for dinner tomorrow night 🙂

  • Marcel says:

    Hi there
    I came across your page from a FB link and quite like what you’ve got going.

    However, after watching the chook vid, which I believe displayed a stocking density of 10000/hectare, I’m unsure what the fuss is about. Those are happy chooks. They’re able to come and go, exercise and scrape around. The fact that most seem to be in or very near to the barn suggests to me that THAT is where the food is, so that is where they WANT TO BE.

    I have my own free range flock of about 30 (including cocks) who share an acre of feral proof, heavily planted land. It’s about as close, to what their ancestral jungle-fowl lived in, as I can make it. They all spend 90% of their time waiting at the gate where I feed them daily. My chooks, even when given almost unlimited access to semi-wilderness are lazy enough that they prefer to just wait for the easy tucker.

    Incidentally, only about half of them sleep in the “chook house”. The rest are quite happy to sleep in trees. It makes it tough to find their eggs but pleasing when a new little flock turns up at the feeding gate.

    • Erin B says:

      Thanks for your comments, Marcel. I can see what you are saying and it’s great that you have chooks that sound really happy. My view on this is that consumers should have a choice and be aware of what they are buying when they select ‘free-range’ at the supermarket. My understanding is that 10,000 hens per acre does not provide enough room for chooks to live truly ‘free range’. 1500 per hectare is the current industry standard and I believe the experts when they say that this is best practice. I’m quite sad to see that people would seek to capitalise on the concerns some consumers have about animal welfare and misrepresent the true nature of the conditions in which the chooks are raised in order to make a quick buck. The way I see it, if producers want to run 10,000+ chooks per acre then that is their prerogative, just don’t try and tell me that they are ‘free-range’ – come up with another name and let consumers decide.

  • Marcel says:

    Further to my previous comment, I believe that many of us are guilty of expecting animals to have human emotions and desires. This is born by the fact that many of us humans think thusly “I would hate to live like that so I don’t think it’s appropriate to raise animals like that”

    What many of us need to realise is that animals DO NOT have human emotions or desires. They don’t crave for chocolate and they don’t need “retail therapy” as obvious as that sounds.

    When raising animals it’s obviously wise to give them choices but when chooks, for instance, choose the barn over the grass then perhaps they don’t need so much grass? Perhaps they’d just prefer a bigger barn?

    • Erin B says:

      With respect, Marcel, I disagree with you. The purpose of this post is not to disect whether barn laid or free range is better, rather it is to point out the problems with the current labelling system. I believe it’s important for animals to be raised ethically and treated well. I have had animals my entire life and while I agree tha none of them have craved ever chocolate, I have witnessed ’emotions’, personalities and behaviours in animals that lead me to believe passionately that it’s important to be kind and ethical in our treatment of them.

  • Erin B says:

    via email:

    Hi Erin,

    As a certified Bio-Dynamic free range egg producer, stocking our hens at only One Hundred and Fifty hens per hectare, I felt that I could share another side of the debate.

    Hens do not have human emotions or desires, but have feelings and needs none the less.

    We raise our chickens from day old, they are kept in a shed with heating until they are fully feathered (about 4 weeks of age), we then start letting them out during the day, and close them in their shed at night to keep them warm. In the morning before we open the door of their shed the noise of anticipation is deafening, and there is a near stampede when the door is open.

    When they are about 12 weeks of age they are moved into their laying sheds and from this point on are never locked in. They are free to come and go as they please, their sheds are fully mobile and are moved onto fresh pasture regularly, they can roam anywhere on their tree lined 8 hectare paddock. We do not beak trim our birds and hens stocked at densities higher than 1500 per hectare have to be beak trimmed so they do not peck at each other.

    Many of the producers with stocking densities above 1500 per hectare are just cashing in on the Free Range brand without doing anything other than removing the cages from their sheds. These eggs should be branded as something else e.g. Barn Yard as that is what they really are. Their yard would be completely void of any grass or ground cover in a very short time (as in the video) and the hens would then just stay inside as there is nothing to attract them outside. On the video the majority of hens are still inside, in our situation the majority are outside.

    Kathy (Katham Springs Bio-Dynamic Free Range Eggs Kangaroo Island)

  • Gillian says:

    Hey Erin

    This dish looks great! I finally discovered kale about a year ago when kale chips were the next big thing! I mostly use it stews but am always looking for new ideas around both mushrooms ( I buy a bunch at farmers markets each month) and kale so will look forward to giving this try. BTW – I look forward to meeting you at EDB4 2013 in a few weeks time 🙂

  • I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog. My husband and I are organic vegetable farmers. When I’m not digging in the dirt I am cooking in my kitchen. Love all of your recipes!

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