One of the most popular topics here on this blog over the years has been the egg. I guess its popularity is due to many factors: eggs are an ancient food, they are available everywhere, and they lend themselves to an almost infinite variety of dishes for every occasion. There are of course many types of eggs enjoyed by humans, and in previous posts I have discussed emu eggs, plovers’ eggs and the eggs of several other birds, but today I want to focus once again on the humble hen’s egg.
My source today is Eggs: Facts and Fancies; compiled by Anna Barrows (Boston, 1890.) The author begins by saying “This book has been compiled with a twofold object: to increase the use of eggs as food, and thus increase their production.” In addition to facts and fancies, the book is a fine source of egg-lore, egg quotations, and anecdotes. My favourite section (other than the recipes of course) is the short chapter on superstitions related to eggs, which I give you in its entirety:
There's something strange about egg shells,
That makes them proof against all spells."
EGGS, and especially their shells, have been thought potent aids in witchcraft.
Irish and English nurses once instructed children to push their spoons through the shell of an egg, after eating its contents, '' to keep the witches from making a boat of it."
These lines from Beaumont and Fletcher show the common belief:
"The devil should think of purchasing that egg-shell.
To victual out a wife for the Bermoothus."
Sir Thomas Browne tells us another reason for breaking the shells, lest the witches should
draw or prick their names therein and thus injure the person who had partaken of the egg.
Eggs laid on holy days were supposed to possess helpful qualities against all ills.
In 1584, Reginald Scot says, '' To hang an egg, laid on Ascension Day, in the roof of a house preserveth the same from all hurts."
Eggs produced on Good Friday were also kept, since they had power to extinguish any fire on which they might be thrown.
The Netherlanders say that ague may be kept at a distance by eating on Easter Day two eggs laid on Good Friday. While in North Germany the shells are broken after the contents are eaten to keep away the same dread visitor.
Dreaming of eggs is a prediction of trouble, though if the shells be broken when they appear the danger is averted.
Scotch fishermen think it unlucky to have eggs on board their boats, as they will bring contrary winds.
In many parts of England eggs are not allowed to leave the house after sunset, for fear of ill luck, and to have them brought in would be equally disastrous.
On Halloween, if the white of egg be dropped into any pure liquid, the shape it takes will indicate the future of the person trying the charm.
A maiden anxious to see her future husband, spends the day of St. Agnes in silence and fasting, then takes the yolk from a hard-boiled egg, fills the cavity with salt and eats shell and all. After sundry incantations she may then count on seeing the desired one in her dreams.
Hebrew mourners returning from the funeral sometimes partake of a hard-boiled egg sprinkled with ashes instead of salt. Probably this has reference to the resurrection.
I have chosen three recipes from the book for you today:
Shell hard-boiled eggs, dip in batter, fry brown in butter. Dip again, and fry again, and so on till it becomes a large ball. Serve with sauce.
Shaker Fish and Eggs.
Heat in a common saucepan one pint of new milk, or thin cream if you have it. Season with salt, and let it simmer for a few minutes. Remove a portion of this gravy into another vessel and dissolve therein a small piece of butter. Into the saucepan slice a layer of boiled potatoes, making the slices say three eighths of an inch thick; to this add a little salt codfish, boiled and picked very fine, then a layer of boiled eggs, each egg cut in four or five slices. Alternate with another layer of potato, fish and egg until the desired quantity is obtained. Now pour on the reserved gravy and cover over for a few minutes, or until ready to place upon the table.
When dished up, place upon the top some of the sliced eggs. The eggs should be boiled six minutes, and then immediately immersed in cold water. This prevents them from becoming too hard, and also toughens the shell, thus rendering it more easily removed. For four persons, about eight eggs and eight medium- sized potatoes are needed. This quantity will require of salt fish, about three tablespoonfuls, when nicely prepared. This is really a delectable dish.
Boil the eggs hard. Remove the shells one by one, while they are under the water; press both ends softly between the first finger and thumb till it assumes the shape of an apple. Color each slightly with red, or make little spots to simulate the appearance of an apple.