The incredible, indelible egg.

July 23, 2010 · 14 comments

Remember that ad campaign of the 70s/80s? The one where the egg producers of America tried to battle the bad rap unleashed on the shy and unassuming egg (the rap being that the egg was a suicide oval, a widow-maker, a cholesterol-spiking grenade-of-sorts)?

The poor egg. It didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Except that now, after a couple decades of egg-engineering have given us eggs pumped full of extra omega-3’s, eggs with no yolks, and eggs with no egg, the little ovum who boasts what Joy of Cooking calls “nature’s perfect shape” is making a strong comeback.

I have been reading M.F.K. Fisher’s With Bold Knife and Fork (if you enjoy reading about food at all, I highly recommend finding a copy to devour for yourself). She has an entire chapter devoted to the egg, and admits to her ability and desire to write no less than an entire book on the subject. I was struck by the author’s realization, even in 1960, that the eggs available to her were different than the eggs of her childhood. Mass-production and pasteurization were already underway, and she mourned the death, per se, of the egg:

An egg of course is meant to produce another potential egg producer, and that is why it is a living thing. Indeed, of all the foods we absorb in order to continue our own human existence, it is probably the most alive, just as wine is, in what we drink for various reasons connected with the same purpose… The great difference here, though is that an egg, because of its secret nature, can never be “pasteurized” and still remain as it was born, and intricate ovum, a small womb, with its own fetus and its protecting ovoid sea of albumen. The only way to pasteurize and egg is to render it sterile before it takes its mysterious form within the hen, and that is a sad story, according a friend of mine.

… He feels empathy, to put it mildly, for the hens raised commercially on little perches, high above the ground and far from Chanteclair. “Those pitiful chickens squatting there, all coopy, with their little old eggs rolling out on schedule according to the stuff they is fed, is in misery. They’s sick but they don’t know it. A hen needs two things to be happy: a good rooster in with her and plenty of ground to scratch and to peck. These store-eggs without a rooster won’t even beat up a good batter, and they is not fit to fry!”*

It can be startling, I suppose, to think of an egg as a living thing — especially since what our generation was raised on was probably not alive (unless, of course, you lived on a farm with chickens). But it seems important to do, if we’re going to eat them. Once you ponder it a little, if you’re like me, it will be the alternative that seems creepy.

So I’m a fan. If you haven’t already, try out the eggs at your local farmer’s market (ask if they are from pastured — i.e., grass-and-bug-eating, running-around chickens). They will run you about $3-$4 dollars for a dozen; but when you think about a protein at dinner, that’s amazingly cheap. Once you go through a few cartons, see if it’s not hard to go back to the pale, sterile ones from the grocery.

And then, in a few weeks, after you’ve transitioned to pastured eggs, we’ll have a lesson in poaching.

Not really. But Ms. Fisher — she kills me. A whole chapter on tripe. Seriously. She was nose-t0-tail before it was cool.

* Fisher, M.F.K. With Bold Knife and Fork. Paragon Books; New York, 1969. p. 110.

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Hannah July 23, 2010 at 9:13 am

Amen. I am pretty much obsessed with eggs, and there is no going back once you start eating real ones!

Hannah July 23, 2010 at 9:16 am

But speaking of eggs, I have been wanting to see if I could trouble you for an egg-free cake recipe??? Not ready to call it an allergy (and initial test was in fact negative), but my about-to-turn-one girl throws up whenever she has egg yolk. And she deserves a no chance of vomiting cake on her birthday, don’t you think?

katy July 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

Hannah — I’ve got a FANTASTIC vegan chocolate cake — I’ve baked it for Townes every year. Here’s a link to the recipe, halved for cupcakes (double it to make a huge 3-layer cake):

CK July 23, 2010 at 9:45 am

I love eggs. W’s preschool has a little produce stand run by a local farmer, and they sell eggs made by that happy sort of chicken and YOWZA if these aren’t the best eggs we’ve ever had. All different shapes and sizes and colors, with the most glorious orange-gold yolks. Even better than the ones advertised as “cage-free” and “grass-fed” in natural grocery stores. We ain’t never going back, for sure.

katy July 23, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Does the farmer sell the milk from his cows? ; )

Hannah July 23, 2010 at 10:17 am

Thanks for the link! I just may have to have a “practice” run this weekend…

Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS July 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

My kids were recently out of town and ate conventional eggs. My son, who’s 9, exclaimed out loud that the eggs didn’t look like real eggs and were they really? They were so pale, and all the kids said they tasted blah.

We’re fans of real eggs, too! Currently we buy from a local farm, but we’re raising up a flock of ducks and eagerly awaiting those wondrous eggs.

I enjoyed your post!

katy July 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Wardeh, I’ve enjoyed reading about your duck adventures. I will be curious to read about their eventual yield, and your retrospection about the decision to go with ducks rather than chickens.

Duck eggs sound so much more gourmet, too ; )

JenE July 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I like to steam eggs instead of hard-boiling eggs. We use a bamboo steamer. Prick the fat end of the egg to make a tiny hole to keep from cracking (I use a corn on the cob holder for this). Steam egg for 12-15 min. Less time for softer yolk. Steaming the eggs makes for a much more tender white part of the egg, not as rubbery as hard boiled.

katy July 23, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Jen, I’ve never even heard of that! What a great idea — I’ll have to try it — don’t have a bamboo steamer but a steamer basket should work too?

I just recently (reading Fisher) realized that I never soft-boil my eggs — but I plan to start. Seems like that would be a way to avoid rubbery whites, as well.

Rebecca Martin July 25, 2010 at 11:58 am

Love and agree. Completely.

CK July 25, 2010 at 10:31 pm

No milk. Not yet, anyway!

So Scott is mad about perfectly soft-boiled eggs. And I must say, he does a dem fine job. He likes the Cooks Illustrated method. I’d look it up and link to it here, but don’t have the energy (ridiculous, I know). It involves bringing them to a boil but then taking them off the heat and letting them sit off-heat for a short time. Delicious.

Meg July 26, 2010 at 9:32 pm

so this one made me buy some eggs at the farmer’s market. i’m excited to try them. but with them being more expensive than food store eggs, do you use them for baking or only for eating? i’m inclined to use store bought for baking, but would love to know what you think.

katy July 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I used to buy separate eggs for baking and eating — didn’t want to waste the higher-priced local eggs on cookies. But now I’m more likely to just use the local eggs for everything — more out of my laziness (and I tend to bake less in summer — I use local eggs for ice cream though) than any real health reason (though the local eggs will lend more nutrients even to cookies ; )

At holiday baking time, though, I’m sure you’ll once again see a carton or two of cheap eggs in my frig.

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