This spring we attempted some kind of holy grail in chicken keeping (shy of getting an actual rooster), and got twelve fertilised eggs to put underneath a clucky chicken. We’d wanted to do this for years, but hadn’t managed to seize the moment and get the eggs quick enough. This time things were looking good. Our famously clucky old chook called Paris started showing signs on a Thursday, and by Sunday we’d fetched the eggs and placed them underneath her. Then began a three-week waiting period that felt like an age.
The farmer who supplied the eggs mentioned some of the pitfalls to watch out for – mother hen abandoning eggs (chicks dying); hen never leaving the eggs to get food or water (hen dying!); mite infestations; other chickens attacking the chicks; rats; not to mention the ever-present fear of foxes … If we had really researched this, we may never have attempted it. While I was coming to grips with all the morbid possibilities, our kids made a chick hatching calendar like an advent calendar to count down the days. The stakes felt outrageously high.
After the initial worry and fear, Paris seemed to be doing a great job of egg-sitting, and together we entered a cruisey mid-trimester … Stress levels mounted again towards the end when the first possible due date passed, then the next, and I started feeling sick to my stomach about what we were going to have to tell the kids. But on the 21st day our son came racing in to our bed in the morning, yelling out that he could see a crack. Sure enough, we could even hear tweeting coming from inside some eggs. Nine out of twelve chicks hatched over a few days, and we were beside ourselves.
Having cute baby chicks in your backyard does lead to a lot of extra play dates, drop-ins, and catch-ups over afternoon tea. It’s been a cakey time in our house, mostly featuring a strawberry and coconut cake …
Strawberry and coconut cake
Fresh strawberries form an intoxicating jammy layer inside this simple, buttery, coconuty cake. I tested the recipe a few times, and the kids tell me I should keep testing it just so they can keep eating it. (I promise they don’t always tell me this!)
300 g strawberries
150 g sugar
180 g butter, diced and softened
200 g desiccated coconut
120 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
125 ml natural yoghurt
½ cup coconut flakes (optional)
Wash and hull the strawberries, and slice them into a bowl. Mix with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and set aside, stirring from time to time (the sugar will dissolve and the strawberries will become a little juicy).
Cream the butter and remaining sugar in a medium mixing bowl using a wooden spoon. Stir in the egg, followed by the coconut, flour and baking powder. Finally, stir in the yoghurt.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 24 cm cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper. Scoop half the cake mixture into the tin and smooth it out. Top with the strawberries and their juice, spreading evenly. Dollop the remaining cake mixture over the top of the strawberries, and use wet hands to spread it out evenly without gaps. If desired, scatter the coconut flakes over the surface (if not using coconut flakes, you will have a plainer looking cake, but it will still taste delicious). Cook for around 45 minutes, or until golden and lightly springy in the middle.