Home » in the kitchen » Ducks Make Terrible Mothers: a short history of noodlemaking in the Midwest

Ducks Make Terrible Mothers: a short history of noodlemaking in the Midwest

Once upon a time we raised ducks. Two of our birds always managed to stand out from the rest; our drake, Cyrano, and his leading lady, Battleship. Cyrano carved himself a permanent place in our family’s history with his misguided and erratically amorous nature while Battleship was well known for her stealthy presence on the little kiddie-pool that served as their pond home. “Look- she’s just like a battleship in the water!” my youngest brother commented, and although you really would have to be a ten year old boy to see the likeness between a navy carrier and a light gray lady duck, the name stuck.

Ducks *do* lay eggs, just like chickens (and turkeys and bluejays and hummingbirds and iguanas) but a duck egg is very different from a chicken egg. Duck eggs are much bigger, much whiter (when cleaned up) and the consistency of a scrambled duck egg is something like spoiled cottage cheese. The yolks are very large and fatty while the whites are perfectly clear and incredibly ‘tough’. The eggs themselves are different, and the manner in which they are laid is rather out of the ordinary as well. Chickens are such homey creatures, they nest and croon and brood and deposit their offspring in cozy little boxes lined with straw. They stay at home to raise their young, where ducks (at least our ducks) literally lay their eggs while they roam about. Wherever they are when the urge comes on them, an egg pops out, the duck trips over it and then moves on. This makes collecting them something of a cross between a treasure hunt and scanning for landmines. Ducks have a great affinity for the damp, puddly places on earth and so their eggs would often be sunk three inches in black mud, waiting like a bomb to be stepped on or just sitting there, fermenting itself into an effervescent capsule of nastiness to be discovered at a later date.

We learned that our lady ducks would set up an awful racket just before planting one of these small white packages, and my brother could rush out and have a head start in the search for it. All collected eggs went into crates in the garage fridge until we had enough to make a big batch of noodles. Duck eggs are terrible scrambled, but they make the best noodles.

Everyone in our hometown knew this and the little old ladies at the Methodist and Catholic churches would scour the countryside in search of duck eggs for their annual Great Easter Noodle Fundraiser, or the Great Summer Noodle Fundraiser, or even the Great Harvest Noodle Fundraiser. We would often sell a couple dozen to them and then, not being Methodists or Catholics, we would use the rest for our own Great Noodle Feast. Duck egg yolks are so golden, so rich that noodles made with them taste as though they were buttered from the start. Don’t add water, don’t add oil- just white flour, salt and duck eggs and you have the perfect accompaniment, or even the perfect base for any Midwestern meal. To this day, one of my favorite meals is fresh noodles with a little salt and a slight sauce made from a pat of butter and a bit of the water the noodles were cooked in. Oh my. Doesn’t get much better than that! No sir.

My family would have ‘noodle days’ where we could roll and cut out pounds and pounds of egg noodles, and any that weren’t eaten fresh (for a huge pot of boiling water was always present on noodle days, ready for a few handfuls of scraps to be thrown in and then eaten as quickly as they were fished out) were hung on our tall laundry rack to dry. Homemade egg noodles are good at any time, but the ultimate experience is certainly to eat them fresh- as fresh as possible. It will change your life.

This here is the hardcore recipe- no machines, no bowls, no spoons. This is the recipe for people who are in desperate need of a soul-feeding noodle experience. You know the type- they’re the ones that think ‘pasta’ comes in a gaudy blue cardboard box and tastes like processed cheese food. Do you have someone in your life who has fallen this far from the romance and depth of real food? Make them these noodles- don’t doll them up with sauces or add-ins, just let the noodles do the wooing, serve them up hot and slick and slightly buttered and then stand back. The simplicity, the elegance, the sturdiness, the smooth, warm butteriness will do them good. Say it with me, “Noodles change things.”

Our Lady Battleship’s Great Spring Fundraiser Noodles

3 cups white flour

3 large duck eggs (or 4 chicken eggs)

1 teaspoon salt

extra flour

Clean off a decent amount of space on your counter. Dole your flour out in a big mound, sprinkle the salt around on top of it, then carefully form an indentation in the top- like a volcano. If you are a confident egg-cracker, go ahead and crack your eggs right into this little pool. If you are *not* so confident- or even if you are confident and still bad at it, crack your eggs into a bowl and then dump them into the flour. Shells don’t make good noodles.

This is the fun part.

You’re going to start slowly, breathe deeply, and bring some of the flour up from around the base of your volcano into the pool. Start gently mixing everything together. The goal is to get the eggs mixed in before they desert the mount and run all over the counter. Use your fingers and break the yolks, all the while mixing the flour into the wet egg. Pay attention, go slow and be persistent. Keep mixing, bringing in more flour, then more flour until you have a ball of dough. It *will* happen, I promise you. The dough should be relatively stiff, but it will probably be rather sticky too at this point. If you need to (and I always need to, it seems) sprinkle more flour on the counter.

Now. Knead the dough. Here’s the cook’s chance for some therapy, so I suggest you take this opportunity to sing a song or meditate or just think about something peaceful and buttery. I love to knead dough, it’s such a basic, earthy sort of thing to do. Think about what you started with, flour and the eggs from a renegade mother duck, and now you have this smooth, warm, stretchy- almost breathing- possibility in your hands. The more you knead, the smoother the dough will be. Keep adding a little flour if you need to, but you don’t want to make the dough rock hard. The more the gluten has been worked up, the more the dough will behave itself. Usually, for me, this takes about ten minutes.

Pack your dough up in some plastic wrap and let it rest for a while- at least 20 minutes, but you can make the dough a day or so in advance and it will be fine. You will need to wake it up once it’s out of the fridge, knead it a little while- the dough should be fully developed by now. Cut the dough into quarters, sprinkle some flour down and then roll it out. The thickness is largely dependent on your taste. I like my noodles on the thick side, but my mom likes them almost papery. If this is the case, you might want to invest in a hand-powered pasta machine, one that you roll the dough through to get really thin. Ours would then cut the noodles into perfectly proportioned strips as well. I just work on mine with a rolling pin until I’m tired of doing it, then I use a knife to slice them into strips, or sprinkle some flour on the dough, loosely roll it up and cut the strips with scissors. They are your noodles- do what you will. Creativity and flexibility makes good noodles.

Dry them if you want, make sure it is done in a airy, warm sort of place without a lot of dust. Depending on how thick you have made them this will take an hour, or overnight, or even a whole 24 hours. Check them often. Store in airtight containers in the freezer, or fridge.

If you are going to eat them fresh (highly recommended), put on a pot of water before you start rolling them out. Once the noodles have been formed and the water is churning, add some salt to the water and then add a good handful of noodles. Stir well then let them cook for five or so minutes. Again, it depends on how thick your noodles are, or whether you like them firm or pasty. Scoop them out of the briny deep, salt again if you want then embellish or just leave them nekkid.

Serve. Enjoy. Repeat.

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3 thoughts on “Ducks Make Terrible Mothers: a short history of noodlemaking in the Midwest

  1. not raising ducks of course; did that enjoyed them too old now. Making noodles from scratch looks like alot of mess laughter and fun. Thanks for sharing.

"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." Julia Child

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