Wednesday, 4 April 2012

 Good (Egg) Friday   

I vividly remember a warm spring day when I was about five years old, exploring in our back yard.  In the freshly mown grass, I discovered a tiny blue egg.  I picked it up, and promptly dropped it in surprise.  It was not the chocolate treat I assumed it to be, but a real egg.  I carried it into the house, and my father gently explained that it was a robin’s egg that had fallen from a nest.  My next thought, of course, was that I would hatch it and soon have my very own baby robin, a plan soon dashed by my father’s observation that that egg was very cold indeed.

Eggs and springtime have always been closely linked, and with Easter in particular.  Throughout the year, we seldom give much thought to the useful and ubiquitous inhabitant of our refrigerators and breakfast plates.  At Easter, however, the egg takes centre stage.  Dyed in bright hues, molded from delicious chocolate, wrapped in shiny foil, paired (mysteriously) with bunnies and devoured; there is no escaping the egg.

Eggs have long been associated with that other springtime theme - fertility and birth.  In pre-Christian Europe, eggs were believed to have mystical properties.  Farmers would rub raw egg over their hoe or other farming implements to ensure a successful crop.  Brides would break an egg in the doorway of their new home, with an eye to future children.  The rich symbolism of the egg, like many pagan traditions, was soon co-opted by Christianity.  The egg became linked with the Christ’s resurrection; the chick springing forth from the egg became the perfect metaphor for Jesus’ emergence from the tomb.

In early Canadian settlements, eggs played a key dietary role.  Scavenging in the barnyard for weeds and insects, chickens could be raised cheaply and easily, and their eggs were a reliable source of nutrition.  These early breeds would have been slightly less prolific than our modern-day hens, however, so it was important to make the most of the eggs when they were the most plentiful in the spring.  Early cookbooks and household manuals devoted many pages to the preservation of eggs.  The 1882 Common Sense in the Household:  A Manual of Practical Housewifery, instructs,
“Keep eggs in a cool, not cold place.  Pack in bran or salt, with the small end downward, if you wish to use within two or three weeks, and furthermore, take the precaution to treat them well with linseed oil, or wash them over with a weak solution of gum tragacanth or varnish.”
A popular 1833 publication, The American Frugal Housewife, described several methods for preserving eggs.  Many of them were somewhat alarming, such as this one:
“Eggs will keep almost any length of time in lime-water properly prepared.  One pint of coarse salt, and one pint of unslacked lime, to a pailful of water.  If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs, and if there be a single shell cracked, it will spoil the whole.   They should be covered with lime-water, and kept in a cold place. The yolk becomes slightly red but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years.”
The housewife who failed to plan ahead was typically scolded,

“The cheapest time to lay down eggs is in early spring...  It is bad economy to buy eggs by the dozen, as you want them.”
In times when one had to literally hunt through the barn or barnyard for randomly laid eggs, it was important to be able to recognize whether or not an egg was fresh.  One source advised:

“Having washed and wiped the eggs clean, touch the large end with your tongue, and if, by holding it there a second or two, it feels warm to your tongue, it is good, but if it feels cold, it is a certain sign it is not good.”

Would you like to hunt for real eggs in a barn, try your hand at Egg Jarping, Egg Rolling and Egg Bunching or participate in an egg-themed scavenger hunt?  Visit Westfield Heritage Village on Friday April 6, from 12:30 – 4:00, and have a great day learning all about the history of eggs and their place in our culture.  For more information on this and other events, visit

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