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.