Remember that ad campaign of the 70s/80s? The one where the egg producers of America tried to battle the bad rap unleashed on the shy and unassuming egg (the rap being that the egg was a suicide oval, a widow-maker, a cholesterol-spiking grenade-of-sorts)?
The poor egg. It didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Except that now, after a couple decades of egg-engineering have given us eggs pumped full of extra omega-3’s, eggs with no yolks, and eggs with no egg, the little ovum who boasts what Joy of Cooking calls “nature’s perfect shape” is making a strong comeback.
I have been reading M.F.K. Fisher’s With Bold Knife and Fork (if you enjoy reading about food at all, I highly recommend finding a copy to devour for yourself). She has an entire chapter devoted to the egg, and admits to her ability and desire to write no less than an entire book on the subject. I was struck by the author’s realization, even in 1960, that the eggs available to her were different than the eggs of her childhood. Mass-production and pasteurization were already underway, and she mourned the death, per se, of the egg:
An egg of course is meant to produce another potential egg producer, and that is why it is a living thing. Indeed, of all the foods we absorb in order to continue our own human existence, it is probably the most alive, just as wine is, in what we drink for various reasons connected with the same purpose… The great difference here, though is that an egg, because of its secret nature, can never be “pasteurized” and still remain as it was born, and intricate ovum, a small womb, with its own fetus and its protecting ovoid sea of albumen. The only way to pasteurize and egg is to render it sterile before it takes its mysterious form within the hen, and that is a sad story, according a friend of mine.
… He feels empathy, to put it mildly, for the hens raised commercially on little perches, high above the ground and far from Chanteclair. “Those pitiful chickens squatting there, all coopy, with their little old eggs rolling out on schedule according to the stuff they is fed, is in misery. They’s sick but they don’t know it. A hen needs two things to be happy: a good rooster in with her and plenty of ground to scratch and to peck. These store-eggs without a rooster won’t even beat up a good batter, and they is not fit to fry!”*
It can be startling, I suppose, to think of an egg as a living thing — especially since what our generation was raised on was probably not alive (unless, of course, you lived on a farm with chickens). But it seems important to do, if we’re going to eat them. Once you ponder it a little, if you’re like me, it will be the alternative that seems creepy.
So I’m a fan. If you haven’t already, try out the eggs at your local farmer’s market (ask if they are from pastured — i.e., grass-and-bug-eating, running-around chickens). They will run you about $3-$4 dollars for a dozen; but when you think about a protein at dinner, that’s amazingly cheap. Once you go through a few cartons, see if it’s not hard to go back to the pale, sterile ones from the grocery.
And then, in a few weeks, after you’ve transitioned to pastured eggs, we’ll have a lesson in poaching.
* Fisher, M.F.K. With Bold Knife and Fork. Paragon Books; New York, 1969. p. 110.