What do we use lots of during the holidays? Eggs.
Within its pleasing oval shell are the means to myriad cooking applications. Great chefs have declared that without eggs, there would be no cuisine. Here is just a little info on the simple multifunctional egg.
Designed by nature, eggs are one of the earliest foods. East Indian history indicates that wild jungle fowl were domesticated as early as 3200 B.C. It is believed that Columbus ships carried to this country the first of the chickens related to those now in egg production, strains which originated in Asia.
The reproductive wonder of the egg has made it the basis of many legends and traditions. Present-day Americans regard the egg as a symbol of life and rebirth in Passover and Easter celebrations.
Eggs have been used to tell fortunes — the fortune was determined by reading the shapes the egg white made when dropped from a shell into a glass of water, much like reading tea leaves.
In Rome, before the days of ultrasound, Nero’s consort Livia reportedly used an egg to determine the gender of her unborn child. When the egg, kept in the “warmth of her cleavage” hatched, the sex of the chick was believed to foretell the sex of the child. In 21 days, a male chick hatched. All went as predicted and the Emperor Tiberius, as well as an old wives’ tale, was born.
It takes a hen about 24 to 26 hours to produce an egg. During formation, the egg moves small end first through the oviduct and just before laying, it is rotated and laid large end first. The hen typically announces the success of her mission with a unique, triumphant cackle.
There are many factors in egg production, light, housing, diet and health of the chicken. Sunlight once signaled the hen to lay — lack of sunlight in the fall and winter signaled her to cease laying. Now scientifically controlled lights keep chickens producing all the time.
The term “pecking order” frequently used to describe status, actually comes from a natural chicken behavior. Chickens especially the light breeds can develop extremely aggressive behaviors. So as a preventive measure some people trim the birds’ beaks with a special hot cutting blade which cauterizes the beak. The process is not unlike clipping a dog’s nails or trimming a horse’s hooves. The hens can still eat and drink.
Some safe handling tips that we should already know but might slip our mind:
• Discard any eggs that are unclean, cracked, broken or leaking.
• Refrigerate raw shell eggs in their cartons on middle or lower inside shelf, not on the door, away from any meats that might drip juices or any produce that might come into contact with eggshells.
• Adequate cooking brings eggs and other foods to a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria that might be present. Reaching 160 degrees kills Salmonella. Note, though Salmonella are destroyed in properly prepared hard-cooked eggs, after cooking, spoilage can occur more quickly than in fresh shell eggs. Cool hard-cooked eggs quickly after cooking, refrigerate them in their shells promptly after cooling and use them within one week.
• Use cold temperatures to keep bacteria from growing to large enough numbers to cause illness. As Salmonella will not grow at temperatures below 40 degrees, keep shell eggs, broken-out eggs, egg mixtures and egg-containing leftovers refrigerated at 40 degrees or below continually when not being cooked or eaten. Freezing does not destroy Salmonella.
Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.