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Edward Bottone: Egg Of My HeartEdward Bottone
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WRITING · RECIPES · TEACHING · PHOTOGRAPHY

Egg Of My Heart

By Edward Bottone

If it were true that man cannot stand too much perfection, then we would not have the egg. And without the perfect egg we would have neither cakes nor custards, no creme caramel or brulée, no quiche, or Angel’s Food cake and no bearnaise or hollandaise, and therefore no eggs Benedict! There would be no zabaglione, no chocolate mousse or eggy gelato, no bread pudding or French toast, or dozens and dozens of delights in which eggs work their inimitable magic, leavening, binding, thickening, enhancing, and enriching. And I haven’t even mentioned all the dishes in which the egg is the star; deviled eggs, egg salad, egg sauce, egg nog and breakfast sunnysideup-overeasyscrambledpoachedcoddledshirredhaveityourway eggs.

Hold perfection in your hand for more than the moment you give it before plunging it into boiling water, cracking it on the edge of the pan before frying, or the bowl before scrambling. Just look at it. Perfection. You don’t see that every day. Or maybe you do, and don’t give it a second glance. The egg is a commonplace, but also potent symbol imbued with centuries of magic reverence and regard.

Only during the spring does the egg get anything close to the attention, dare I say reverence, it deserves.. After all, when but during the days before Easter is the egg more carefully examined? Cosseted and coddled, so to speak. The pastel painted eggs nestled in the Easter basket along side foil wrapped egg-shaped chocolates and too cute to bite bunnies, doesn’t begin to tell the tale. The history of the iconic, symbolic, legendary egg emerges from the mists of time thousands of years ago.

Eggs and birds have been around far longer than historians. Egyptian and Chinese records show that fowl were laying eggs for consumption as early as 1400 B.C. E. More than food, this bit of life encased in a brittle shell assumed symbolic importance from the beginning of civilization. The Phoenicians believed the very creation of heaven and earth began with a primordial egg breaking apart. In an interesting inversion, Ptah, god of the ancient Egyptians, is said to have created the egg from the sun and moon. According to Native Americans the world was created when the Great Spirit burst forth from the giant golden egg and created the world.

Early Spring festivals, welcoming the sun’s return from its long winter sleep, were part of every early civilization, and the egg would play it’s part. Easter, a rite of Spring celebrating Christ’s resurrection, which has its antecedent in the risen Adonis, would be no exception. Blessed, colored, eaten, displayed and exchanged, the egg had long been associated with the change of season, and proof of the renewal of life.

Soon after the date for Easter was astronomically fixed in 525 AD, decision makers within the church made eggs forbidden during Lent. Since you could not, however, stop hens from laying, there was a glut of eggs on the market. This surplus may have inspired the hardboiling and decorating of eggs that became part of the Easter celebration.

In Germany, emptied egg shells are painted, decorated with lace and ribbon, and hung on a small leafless tree. The Moravian custom is for girls to carry the Easter tree from house to house for good luck. Poles, Slavs and Ukrainians share an enduring tradition of elaborately decorated Easter eggs, every dot, line and cross hatching in the pattern is meaningful. Yugoslavian Easter eggs bear the initials “XV” for “Christ is Risen,” a traditional Easter greeting.

In Imperial Russia, Easter was celebrated with far more fanfare than Christmas. The tradition of the decorated Easter egg reached its zenith during the time of the final Tsar, Nicholas II, when exquisite, bejeweled eggs were commissioned from the goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé. These precious eggs made of gold, rock crystal, decorated with diamonds, amethyst, rubies often concealing something even more wonderfully extravagant within. All this artistry and indulgent expense was meant, the artist-jeweler said, merely to charm and nothing more. No wonder the serfs revolted.

Rolling and hunting for Easter eggs has long been an important part of the Easter holiday in England and the US. Brightly colored eggs are called pace eggs in England, after pascha, the Latin word for Easter and are said to symbolize the rolling away of the stone that entombed Christ. The egg and Easter are inseparable.
To those of you who have abandoned the egg in favor of gagging down a bowl of dusty cereal flecked with hard bits of dried fruit — rejoice! The neatly self-packaged egg is also food perfection. Each egg is a mere 70 calories and is loaded with what’s good for you: potassium, protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamins A, B-6, B-12, phosphorus, and zinc. Eggs also provide lecithin, which contains a phospholipid, acetycholine, that has been demonstrated to have a profound effect on brain function; and lutein and zeaxanthin which promotes eye health. And that’s just one egg, and who eats just one?

Although it has always had all this going for it, there was a time when people turned away in horror from the egg. An egg, the food police shockingly revealed, harbors 4.5 mg of cholesterol (71% of the average daily requirement). The 1980’s fear of cholesterol was the cause of the decline of egg consumption. In 1999, however, the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that, “up to 1 egg a day is unlikely to have a substantial overall impact on the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke among healthy men and women.” The liver, where cholesterol is produced is naturally self-regulating, will slow down production when adequate quantities of cholesterol comes from diet.

Furthermore, the association of eggs with fertility and other symbolic qualities yoked to the presence of aphrodisial phosphorus has caused eggs to be considered a potent love food by Casanova among many others.

If all this where not enough to lift the egg from its lowly all too familiar status consider what Alice Thomas Ellis wrote, in The 27th Kingdom (1982) recalling her Aunt Irene who believed that egg-based mayonnaise proved the existence of God. “It was patently absurd to suppose that mayonnaise had come about through random chance, that anyone could have been silly or brilliant enough to predict what would happen if he slowly trickled oil on to egg yolks and then gone ahead and tried it. An Angel must have divulged that recipe and then explained what to do with the left over egg whites — Meringues ….”

Meringue is nearly as astounding as mayonnaise. Just two ingredients — sugar and beaten egg whites and you have a sweet, crunchy cloud of delight to be enjoyed on its own, as a nest for poached or fresh fruit, or to be slathered with hazelnut ganache or mounded with mousse (more eggs).

This remarkable gift of the bird to man touches every culture and cuisine. Ostrich, duck, plover, gull, quail and the ubiquitous hen eggs are among those enjoyed in some form or another. Egg drop soups like Italian Stracciatella, Greek avgolemono and Japanese tamago toji, a French omelet or an Italian frittata, Chinese thousand year-old eggs and spiced pigeon eggs, Thai kai khem (salted duck eggs), Mexican huevos rancheros (eggs, tortillas, cheese and spicy salsa), sausage wrapped Scotch eggs, Florentine eggs, Creole eggs, Basque eggs, Finnish egg cheese, and sweet Portuguese egg custard, barriga de freira (Nun’s Tummies), are just a few of literally thousands of egg and egg based recipes that cut across every ethnic line.
Convenient, tasty, essential, primal — the egg is undeniably part of life. It fits into any setting, casual or formal, and is always there when needed.

So join with me to intone the words of the American poet, Clarence Day:
Oh, who that ever lived and loved/Can look upon an egg unmoved?/The egg is the source of all./’Tis everyone’s ancestral hall … Oh, join me gentlemen I beg./In honoring our friend, the egg.
Now, get crackin’.

EGGY FACTS

The color of the shell has nothing to do with anything except the type of hen that laid the egg.

The hue of the yolk, on the other hand, is affected by what the hen is fed. Wheat fed hens willproduce darker yolks than those fed on corn and alfalfa.

Blood spots occasionally found on an egg yolk do not indicate a fertilized egg. Rather, they are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface during formation of the egg or by a similar accident in the wall of the oviduct. Less than 1% of all eggs produced have blood spots. The spot can be removed with the tip of a knife, chemically and nutritionally these eggs are fit to eat.

Eggs should be stored large end up, in the refrigerator away from strong smelling foods. A room temperature egg will lose more of its freshness in a day than a refrigerated egg will in a week.

Egg whites may be frozen (in an ice cube tray and then bagged for convenience) for 6 months, defrosted and used.

Ever wonder where the term nest egg originated? In the hen house, of course. A natural, or wooden egg, was placed in a nest to encourage a hen to lay there rather than in some secluded hiding place. Now, we think of a nest egg as money set aside as a reserve.


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