My knowledge of chickens and eggs expanded when I worked for over seven years at Doon Heritage Crossroads and for two years at what was once known as the Ontario Agriculture Museum. I had the chore (or fun depending on the day) of gathering eggs fresh from the hens in old style chicken coops. Some hens made it a challenge to gather eggs so I developed evasive measures to avoid being pecked on the hand which hurts more than expected. Even for an egg hater like me there was always something special about holding a warm egg and then using that newly laid egg to make something delicious. Today, a young woman named Jennifer gathered an egg for me and gave me a few more eggs laid over the past week or so. Thus today’s recipe from the 1906 Berlin Cook Book is Poached Eggs, a recipe contributed by Mrs. M. Roos.
I made another version of Poached Egg back in February on Day 47 and lamented then that the older an egg the more difficult it was to poach. Today we’ll see if I was right. I will use an egg laid today, one gathered on September 21 and another from the store carton in my fridge. I’m also going to talk about egg preserving methods as the cook book includes a few words about that important topic.
Notice that these are not pristine eggs. Yes, that is chicken excrement on the shell. You’ll often see in older recipes the mention to wash your eggs. This is the reason. However, they are only to be washed just before using as washing removes the natural coating on the shell which acts as a bit of a preservative. Eggs bought at the store have been washed and then coated with mineral oil to restore that coating. Egg shells are naturally porous (that’s how the embryo chick breathes inside a fertilized egg) but it is also how eggs pick up the flavours of anything stored near and why they eventually dry up inside.
After washing the eggs, I prepared to poach three of them. My pan was not quite large enough for 4 cups (1 quart) of water so it contained 3 cups plus the tablespoon of salt. Once it was boiling I used the suggested cup method for placing each egg in the water. First was the store egg, next the September 21 egg and finally the fresh from the hen egg. I wonder if you can tell from the photograph the age of the egg? The egg at the front of the picture was laid today. The one on the left is from a store while the one on the right was gathered on September 21 and then refrigerated. I found the freshest egg needed little coaxing to stay neatly in the water. The store egg sprawled across the pan since the white thins with age. The colour of the yolks differed too. That pale yolk belongs to the store egg while the others are more brightly coloured and come from chickens free to move outdoors and eat bugs and vegetation as well as their prepared feed.
Louise Pabst married Michael Roos becoming Mrs. M. Roos. The 1901 census shows the couple living with their school age children (two daughters and a son) plus a 17-year-old domestic servant named Hatty Randall. Louise was pregnant with their fourth child at the time of the census. Michael was a commercial traveller, a common occupation in this community. Each of the manufacturing companies in Berlin would employ men to act as sales representatives for the company’s products. They would travel with samples to stores or any place that was likely to purchase the company’s particular products.
As you know I am not at all fond of eggs but my attempt at a poached egg last time convinced me they could be edible. My toaster appears to have suffered from all the plaster and drywall dust and no longer functions so this taste test is the bare egg with no toast raft or toast soldiers to help it along. Well, I still don’t like eggs but I liked the flavour of the fresh egg best. There wasn’t much difference in flavour — at least for my non egg eating palate. The eggs were too salty so either use the full amount of water or reduce the salt. The freshest egg had the best appearance on the plate and really was the easiest to prepare.
Eggs are a seasonal product since a smart hen does not lay an egg during cold weather when her chick might not survive. To maintain year round production in areas like Berlin (Kitchener) hens need special feed and artificial light to mimic summer. Eggs were more expensive during the winter so at peak production people would preserve eggs in various ways. Coating and burying were popular practices as well as storing in some sort of liquid that excluded the air. There was also a commercial product called water glass (sodium silicate) that was liquid but hardened into a sort of gel suspending the eggs and protecting them from the air. At one time I could buy water glass in the drug store. Many years ago, I experimented with it and was able to keep eggs in perfect condition for at least four months without refrigeration. Were they safe? I don’t know and decided not to try them.
I did not feel safe trying the lime and water method described in the Berlin Cook Book. I don’t mess with lime (other than the citrus fruit). However, the method described below it as “Another Way” is similar to the coat in lard and bury in sand method I’d tried. I decided to attempt it and leave the eggs for a month or so. I’ll report the results then. I melted a 1/2 cup of suet. I only recently found suet in the grocery again. I’d had some in my freezer but unfortunately a month ago during one of its moves from room to room, the fridge was plugged into an inactive outlet for days. Everything inside had to be tossed and it has taken me quite a while to replace any unusual blog related items. I coated one egg with suet and left another alone. I buried both eggs in a dish of pickling salt with small end down and put them in a cool part of the house. It should be interesting to see what happens.
To poach eggs, take a wide flat stew pan and put into it 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon salt, when it comes to a boil open your eggs 1 by 1 into a cup, drop them into the boiling water, but not more than 2 or 3 at a time; take a spoon, and try to keep each egg in shape by pushing the whites, toward the yolk. As soon as the whites are firm take out the egg carefully with a skimmer. Place each on a slice of buttered toast. But you may also pour hot milk in which some butter has been melted, over the toast.
Put into a stone jar a lump of line (2 pounds), put on this 1 quart of water until lime is broken up, add 1 gallon of water and 1 pint of salt. Keep eggs covered with solution and in dark place.
Another Way. Close pores by dipping in melted suet, pack in salt, small end down.