An Ode to Eggs:
Although eggs are a year-round pleasure, they’re most evocative of spring.
April 23, 2019
As expressions go, easy as pie doesn’t make much sense. So many home bakers fear crust. Now eggs, they’re easy. Actually, over easy. And easy going. They let us play with their name in endearingly corny ways, which is egg-cellent. They’re also cheery, as in sunny-side up. We associate eggs with the optimistic time of day, morning, although they’re happy to be the main event at any meal. When the cupboard’s bare at the dinner hour, an omelet comes to the rescue – with the help of maybe a little cheese or spinach — or salsa spooned on top. You don’t need to be a hardboiled detective to figure out the appeal. Crack (toss the shells into the compost bin) and add heat — plus salt and pepper. Eggs are nature’s packaged food. They’re 2-ounce ovoid containers of protein, choline, biotin, selenium and vitamin B — B for breakfast, of course. And given their place in folklore and fable, one can almost imagine their story, printed on paper, folded up and tucked inside the shell: So hot you can fry it on a sidewalk. A good egg. Egg on your face. Egging you on. All in one basket (don’t do it). How to cook? Poached, hard or soft, fried, scrambled, Scotch, en cocotte, curried, coddled, deviled — and combined with other goodness, as in rancheros or shakshuka. I come by my affection for eggs naturally. During my parents’ whirlwind courtship, eggs won my mother over. As we heard the story: While they were riding the bus one day early on, my father pulled an egg from his pocket. He’d tucked it there while fixing breakfast at home and forgot about it. Never underestimate the appeal of absent-minded charm. They were married soon after. When I was a girl, my father had a cooking repertoire of three meals: grilling at the lake, a lazy lunch of what he called “Army-style” sandwiches when my mother was away and Sunday-morning fried eggs and sausage, which he fixed standing at the stove with a spatula, casually basting them with one hand in his pocket and Renfro Valley playing on the kitchen radio. I called the brown, sausage-fat edges of the eggs’ whites “rusty” and meticulously sliced the offending parts away. Years later, I learned to love fried-egg sandwiches at the printing plant of this paper, where I was a reporter. The deadline-driven, three-shift operation required a cafeteria that served the crew who manned the machines and tossed stacks of dailies onto trucks. Those toasted-egg sandwiches — with cheese — were so satisfying for a recent college grad whose apartment stove barely saw action. Later, I was introduced to the wonder of egg on pizza. That was a happy addition to earlier egg pleasures. There were eggy summer-picnic potato salads presented in my grandmother’s red bowl with green-pepper rings decorating the top. While that was being made, I fiddled with my mother’s hinged egg slicer, whose wires I tried to pluck like guitar strings. Another formative-years favorite: deviled eggs, which I requested for my birthday, also in summer. Although eggs are a year-round pleasure, they’re most evocative of spring. Their specialized holders, eggcups, seem like china nests for the table. Architects should love eggs for their embodiment of function and form. Function: They’re portable. Hardboiled eggs like to come along on bike rides, hikes and to the office. Form: Eggs’ pristine oval shape is an object of design, from marble versions to egg-and-dart molding that dates to the ancient Greeks to highly ornate Fabergé eggs. Such adoration befits a food that’s an ancient symbol of fertility, rebirth and life itself. I married into a Ukrainian family, which means my house keeps generations-old Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanka) displayed safely behind glass. Among those half-dozen keepsakes, the most precious is one with a tiny reindeer inscribed at the tip of the narrow end. Eggs are beauties on their own with just nature’s coloring: white, brown, green and duck-egg blue, which has inspired many a front-door color. We’d be happy enough if eggs’ utility and beauty stopped here. Just give us hardboiled eggs, halved or quartered with a niçoise salad. But they’re also the foundation of baking, beyond having starring roles in custard, quiche and lemon pie, with the whites whipped into froth for meringue. Eggs add moisture, structure and luxurious richness. As Julia Child said (paraphrasing here), French cakes are all egg power. That potency extends to their most utilitarian applications. A woman I know likes to say I saved her life. Not true, but I still enjoy hearing it. When she was recovering from major surgery while still mourning the untimely death of her husband, I brought her soft foods, including egg salad, to which she exclaimed, “I haven’t had this since I was a child!” Comfort: as easy as egg.