Spoiled Rotten

All this talk of egg freshness makes me thing again of my grandmother and the stories she’d tell about “winter” eggs when she was a child. That was about 1918. Back then fresh eggs were almost unheard of in the deep winter months. We don’t much think about it now, but chickens go through a natural period of molting each year. They lose old feathers and get news ones. It happens in winter, during which time hens lay few if any eggs. Nowadays commercial egg operations control molting by manipulating light and feed to bring it on quicker and get it finished faster. Whereas molting once took months, so-called “force molted” hens get it over and done with in just a couple of weeks. Which allows us to enjoy fresh eggs all year round.

But that’s now. Back then you just had to wait until the hens were in the mood to lay again. What to do in the meantime? Well if you lived in the city you mostly did without. If you lived in the country there were methods of preserving farm eggs through the winter. One of them, favored by my great grandfather, involved a substance called “water glass”, basically a sodium silicate goop that you’d pour over a vat of carefully stacked raw eggs. The goo would surround the eggs, close up the pores and prevent moisture loss (and bacteria entry). Combined with chilly root cellar temperatures, water glass would keep eggs fresh from November through February, about the time hens began to lay again.

That’s not to say it was pleasant. Even at 90 Grandma could vividly recall the apprehension she felt when her father asked her to fetch eggs from the cellar on dark winter mornings…and her revulsion at having to immerse her arm in the chilly slime (by winter’s end, all the way up to her shoulder). No wonder she loved spring so much. And no wonder why a good fresh egg always seemed to make her happy.

3 thoughts on “Spoiled Rotten”

  1. So would the eggs still taste good? My modern, refrigerator-tuned taste buds are cringing at the thought of three-month-old eggs! Still, that’s fascinating – I’d never heard of such a thing before.

    1. I think they must have been passable. At least as ingredients in other things…pancakes, quick breads, preparations like that. But you’d be surprised, quite a lot of the eggs we buy — especially in winter — are aged at least a little. It’s not uncommon for grocery store eggs to be a month old before they ever get to our refrigerators, where they stay for, well…how long? Store-bought eggs are usually older than you think. Thanks for the comment Nicole!

  2. We used isinglass, which I think is the same stuff Joe refers to as “waterglass”

    A big round clay container, about 3′ high, bellied out to about 15″ then sloped up to about 12″

    Filled with the Autumn eggs and then topped up with isinglass that mum got from the local chemist

    I have no idea what it was, I was 4? 5? yrs old, but I remember the process

    We used that until we had electricity on the farm and could afford a refridgerator

    The eggs were not a lot different from fresh as far as I can recall

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