Once upon a time there were many methods available for the preservation of eggs, but thanks to refrigeration, we can now dispense with that particular household chore. There is one method however which is still quite popular because it adds value over and above simple preservation, and that is pickling. As a race, we seem to love the tangy sour taste of pickled anything, and pickled eggs have been a standby at bars for a very long time – the eggs both staying the dinner pangs and stimulating thirst and so keep patrons drinking.
The method of pickling eggs has not essentially changed over the centuries of course, but it is surprising how many variations can be made on the basic theme.
Some time ago I gave you a recipe for pickled eggs from one of my favourite old cookery texts - Domestic Economy, for rich and poor, by a lady (1827). I repeat it here to start the discussion:
To pickle Eggs, an excellent Sea Store.*
Boil the eggs hard, and put them into cold water, to preserve their colour; when they are cold, take off the shells without injuring the egg: a jar should be chosen that will pack the eggs, that there may be no waste of room, which also makes a waste of vinegar; they may likewise be pickled in the shell.
Season and boil good vinegar with pepper or mace, and salt and strain it over the eggs; let it cool, and then have a fitted bung, which must be pressed tightly in with a cloth. Look at them in a week, and if they require the vinegar to be boiled, do it for sea store or keeping, but for immediate use it is not necessarv. The same vinegar will answer again and again. A cook will find a store of pickled eggs very useful, both in first and second-course dishes, as well as ornamental.
*For a sea store they may be boiled hard in strong vinegar, salt, and spices, in the shell, and so packed: they will keep any length of time.
And a recipe from a hundred years earlier, this one flavoured with sage, which sounds really good to me:
To Pickle Eggs.
Boil New laid Eggs in Vinegar, Cloves, Pepper, and a Handful of Sage-leaves, till hard, then peel them and put them into Glasses; when your Pickle is cold, put it to them, and cover them down close.
Court Cookery: or, The Compleat English Cook (1725) by Robert Smith (Cook)
Or if you want your eggs a nice pink colour:
Boil them until hard; throw them hot into cold water, which will make the shell slip off smoothly after the eggs have remained in it about ten minutes; boil some red beets till very soft; peel and mash them fine, and put enough of the liquor into cold vinegar to color it pink; add a little salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves; put the eggs into a jar and pour the beets, vinegar &c., over them. This makes a pretty garnish for fish or corned meats. Cut the eggs in slices when used.
The Practical American Cook Book, Or, Practical and Scientific Cookery (1855)
Perhaps you would prefer a medley of different eggs?
A Delicious Pickle of Eggs.
Take two dozen of hens' eggs, an equal number of turkeys' eggs, and the same number of guinea fowls'. Boil them twenty minutes. When cold, take off the shells. Add to them six or eight dozen, of plovers' or pigeons' eggs, also boiled hard and shelled. Have ready an ounce each of cloves and mace, four or five nutmegs sliced, an ounce of whole pepper, two ounces of ginger, half-a-dozen cloves of garlic, four ounces of salt, and four or five bay-leaves. Put the eggs into a stone jar, with this seasoning between them. Then pour over them sufficient boiling vinegar to cover them. When cold, close the jar in the usual way. Let them stand two days; then pour off the pickle, boil it, and return it to the eggs. Repeat this twice, thus giving the vinegar three boilings after the first; each boiling at an interval of two days. Close the jar in the usual manner.
This pickle may be made with Hens' Eggs alone, or any other kind of eggs; but a variety of eggs is preferable. Pickled eggs, formerly, were much esteemed.
The family save-all, a system of secondary cookery (1861) by Robert Kemp Philip.
In the following recipe, the hard-boiled eggs are halved before being put in a spiced pickle.
Boil the eggs until very hard; when cold, shell them, and cut them in halves lengthways. Lay them carefully in large-mouthed jars, and pour over them scalding vinegar, well seasoned with whole pepper, allspice, a few pieces of ginger, and a few cloves of garlic. When cold, tie up closely, and let them stand a month. They are then fit for use. With cold meat, they are a most delicious and delicate pickle.
The American Practical Cookery-book (1860) by G.G.Evans.
And finally, other than munching on a pickled egg as a snack, they can also be used as a garnish:
Veal Cake, To Be Eaten Cold.
Pound, in a mortar, as much cold roasted lean veal as, will fill a small mould, together with a slice of ham, or bacon, a piece of the crumb of bread soaked in cold milk, two beaten eggs, a small bit of butter, the same of shalot, or onion; season with pepper and salt, and mix all well together; butter the mould, fill it, and bake it in an oven for about an hour; turn it out when cold, and cut it into slices. Garnish with pickled eggs and parsley.
The Practice of Cookery, by Mrs. Dalgairns (1842)