The Incredible Egg Down Through the Years
by Dorothy Rieke Are eggs healthy? Much has been written about the benefits of eating eggs. Undoubtedly, the incredible egg has endured during all eras of history serving as nutritious food. Whole eggs offer minerals, proteins, vitamins, good fats, and many other nutrients. They also contain vitamins A, B2, B12, B5, and E. In addition, whole eggs contain iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, folate, selenium, manganese, and others. Eggs are responsible for brain health, strong muscles, and energy production.
Large chicken eggs have just 77 calories, including five grams of fat, six grams of protein, and some carbohydrates. Most of the best ingredients are found in the yolk because the white only contains protein and water.
Some people believe that brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs. This is not true. Even though brown eggs are higher-priced, there is little difference in the nutritional value. Brown eggs are more expensive because the hens laying the brown eggs are larger and require more food. Also, brown eggs often come from establishments with higher welfare standards, which raise their production costs.
If concerned with cholesterol, remember that many studies show that eating eggs helps to improve overall cholesterol profiles. Generally, they raise the good cholesterol known as HDL and help lower or change the LDL or bad cholesterol.
Eggs contain all of the essential amino acids in the proper ratios. They represent a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients, including zeaxanthin and lutein, antioxidants for eye protection. Eggs are also a source of choline, an essential nutrient for the brain and human health overall. Many people eat them to help lose body fat; they help us feel fuller for longer, meaning we consume less food.
Through history, eggs have served humankind. At first, people ate them raw; later, they roasted them in the fire coals. People also began to pickle eggs because eggs would only keep about a month before they became inedible. They put these pickled eggs in saltwater and vinegar. The Chinese people fermented eggs to keep them longer.
Greeks and Romans placed eggs in tombs or left full nests beside tombs as a sign of life after death. Today, Jewish mourners eat eggs after a funeral to signify hope in the face of death.
Easter eggs have a special significance. The egg’s hard shell represents the sealed tomb of Christ, and cracking the shell represents Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Years ago, some Christians would not eat eggs and meat during Lent. Easter was a time when they began again to eat both.
Humans have been eating eggs from the beginning of time. Of course, this included eating different kinds of eggs, depending on availability: peafowl, pigeon, quail, ostrich, and others. Eggs are easy to prepare in such ways as boiled, fried, stuffed, and in dishes such as quiche, custards, meringue, and others.
Early-day families often sold eggs to other families. With profits, they often increased their flocks. Later, with more chickens, they sold eggs to markets. Saloons often displayed pickled eggs in large clear glass jars. Great Depression meals depended greatly on the presence of eggs, which were fairly cheap at two cents each. Breakfast often consisted of fried eggs; dinner included deviled eggs; supper depended on scrambled eggs. Custards and puddings filled with eggs served as desserts.
Cookbooks give glimpses of how those of the past prepared food and what they served. Many people used what was available. That meant utilizing the eggs found in hens’ nests.
Many of those recipes, capturing the food culture when written, have become favorites and passed on to the next generation. In reading some of those recipes and trying them, we can benefit from others’ knowledge of the food world.
May Walkins gave my grandma a recipe book years ago. There is something special about how people cooked. They used what was available for serving three meals a day. Some of our best recipes originated with those cooks of decades past. Maybe they did not use the word nutritious, but most women knew that they must keep their family members in good health. For example, my mother served much lemonade during the Depression years. She knew that cheap lemons represented something good for her children’s bodies.
During pioneer days, families often tried to preserve eggs for some time. Grandma Amelia’s cookbook, published in 1889, gave the following directions for the preservation of eggs:
Cover the bottom of a jar with bran and salt in equal proportions; put a piece of lard in the palm of the hand and roll each egg in it until well-greased, then pack them in the jar with the small end down, cover with the bran and salt so that the second layer of eggs will not touch the first; continue packing until the jar is filled, then cover with the bran, tie down and set in a cool, dry place. Eggs so packed during August and September will keep all winter.
Grandma’s cookbook also gave many recipes, including eggs. Some are like our recipes; others are quite different. See the following recipes from an 1889 Nonpareil Practical Cook Book:
BAKED EGGS — German.
This recipe is different in that the eggs are baked after they are filled. We prefer shrimp rather than sardines.
Boil the eggs very hard and cut a small slice from the underside to make them stand firmly in a dish. Cut off the tops, take out the yolks, and pound them in a mortar with little chopped parsley, an ounce of butter, a few chopped sardines, some cream, a few bread crumbs, and salt to taste, mix well, and fill the empty whites. Dip each egg in beaten raw egg, roll in cracker crumbs or flour, and bake in boiling butter or lard. Make a sauce from lemon juice, sardines, parsley, and sliced onion, stewed with broth, of vegetables if possible, a good spoonful of cream; let all cook together, and when well reduced, pour over the dished eggs and serve hot. Shrimp could replace sardines.
EGG BALLS FOR SOUPS
Boil eight eggs quite hard and throw them into cold water. When cold, pound the yolks in a mortar, moisten with beaten yolks of three raw eggs, a little salt, pepper, powdered mace, or nutmeg. Make into round balls, and put through the soup about two minutes before serving. (I would put them in the soup longer because of the raw egg yolks.)
Boil a dozen eggs quite hard. Slice ten of the eggs, white and yoke together. Fry six sliced onions in butter, drain, and lay on a dish, putting the sliced eggs over them. Cover and keep hot while the sauce is made. Grate the yolks of the two remaining eggs and mix them with a little cream, grated nutmeg, and pepper; boil up once and pour over the eggs and onions. Serve very hot; it is a lovely dish for those who like onions.
EGG A LA CREME
Boil 12 eggs just hard enough to allow cutting in slices; cut some crusts of bread very thin, line bottom and sides of a deep dish with them, put in the eggs, stew each layer with bread crumbs. Rub a large tablespoonful of flour through a quarter of a pound of butter, put it in a saucepan with little chopped onion, parsley; season with pepper and salt, add one gill of rich cream, stir all over the fire until it begins to boil, then pour all over the eggs. Cover the top with bread crumbs, set in the oven, and brown nicely; serve hot. (A gill is equal to a quarter of a pint or ½ cup.)
Ingredients: three eggs, half a cupful of milk, one and a half tablespoonfuls of cornstarch, salt to taste, one tablespoon of butter. Heat the omelet pan and the cover of the pan. Beat the yolks of the eggs, cornstarch, and salt together. Beat the whites to a stiff froth and add them to the beaten yolks. Stir all thoroughly and add them to the beaten yolks, then stir all thoroughly and add the milk. Put the butter in the hot pan, and when melted, pour in the mixture, cover, and brown well on the stove for about seven minutes. Fold, turn on a hot dish, and serve with cream sauce. Success is certain if the yolks and cornstarch are well beaten and mixed with the whites added, and the pan and cover are very hot.
OMELET WITH CHEESE
Put a pint of new milk on the fire, boil in it until dissolved half a pound of good rich cheese, sliced thin. Stir the milk, and when ready, stir in four eggs beaten very lightly. Toast some bread, butter evenly, and put on a little mustard. Keep stirring the omelet and add a little salt; when thickened, which will be in five minutes if the fire is good, pour the omelet over the dished toast and serve dry hot.
Boil a dozen eggs very hard; cut them in half, take out the yolks, mash them with two tablespoons of butter, some salt, a little mustard, and moisten with vinegar. Fill the whites again with this mixture, and put them together again.
In a contest for the perfect food, the egg would be a contender. They are available, they are easy to prepare for eating, and they are affordable.
Packed with protein, the egg has more ingredients that make them nutrient-dense. They continue to be regarded as incredible.
Originally published in the April/May 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.