I couldn't cook to save my life when I got married. And since I went straight from my childhood home into marriage, I didn't have a chance to experiment by being on my own and having to cook for myself. One of my earliest experiences as a home cook happened the day before my first Easter as a married woman.
My husband and I married on a carefully planned date in mid-March (between the end of college basketball season and the opening day of the professional baseball season), and Easter was only about three weeks after the wedding. I thought it would be a nice surprise for my husband if I made eggs for us to color for our first Easter together. So while I was at the grocery store the week before Easter I purchased about 3 dozen eggs. After my husband left for work that Saturday afternoon, I placed the eggs in a Dutch Oven, covered them with water, set them on the burner and turned the burner to "high," as I had seen my mother do countless times.
Not long after the water began steaming, I heard high pitched noises coming from the pot. I wasn't sure, but I thought they sounded like "peeps." I picked up the lid and saw there was nothing in the pot except eggs and water, as I expected. I put the lid back down on the pot and the chirping noise continued. And it was getting louder. I looked in the pot again; nothing there but eggs and water. Now I was beginning to worry. My mind was racing for an explanation, all the while conscious of the fact that the water was continuing to increase in temperature. Could the farmer who sold the eggs to the grocery store actually have put eggs in the cartons that were ready to hatch, instead of unfertilized eggs?
I called my mother. Of course, she wasn't home; and since my father had never boiled an egg in his life, he couldn't explain the noise. By that time I had taken the eggs off the heat because I didn't want the responsibility for the homicide of 3 dozen baby chicks on my head. I looked back in the pot. The water was still steaming. And I still heard peeping. Maybe it wasn't too late. I had to make a hasty decision. I couldn't stand the thought of having our family cracking those eggs open on Easter Sunday and finding dead baby chicks. I decided to cut my losses, so I drained the eggs and wrapped them carefully in newspaper. I then placed the package inside a brown grocery bag and very carefully folded the top over twice, stapled it together and put the bag into a cardboard box--snug and soft. I carried the box out to the trash and laid it gently inside the dumpster. At least they were given a decent burial. I didn't think it would look good to the neighbors if I started digging up the back yard to bury the box. Besides, I didn't have a shovel and the ground was still partially frozen from the cold winter we'd just had.
I put my coat on, grabbed the car keys and left for the grocery store. Back then (in the early 1970s), eggs were only about 39 cents a dozen, so I figured I wasn't being wasteful by disposing of those other eggs and starting over. As I drove to the store, my over-active imagination thought of endless possibilities with those eggs. What if I'd left them in the refrigerator and not made boiled eggs that day? Would they have hatched? What would I do with 3 dozen baby chicks? What would I tell my husband? He didn't even want a dog. Our apartment wasn't big enough for the two of us, let alone 3 dozen baby chicks. Certainly there was a different shipment of eggs at the grocery store than the ones I'd purchased a few days before. Or so I hoped. I hedged my bets and instead I went to a different grocery store where I carefully checked out the egg distributors. Some were the same, but some were different. I picked up 3 dozen eggs in Styrofoam containers that looked like they came directly from a factory and not some farmer's chicken coop. I also checked the date on the cartons to make sure that the eggs weren't too fresh. I wanted to be certain that if I decided not to boil all the eggs and left some in the refrigerator, they were already past their hatching time.
I got home and again put the eggs into the Dutch Oven, covered them with water, placed the pot on the burner and turned it on to high. About 7 minutes into the process I heard, "peep, peep, peep." This couldn't be happening again! Did anyone check eggs to make sure they weren't fertilized before they placed them in the cartons for shipment to grocery stores? Now what should I do? What should have been a thirty minute process was by this time going on 3 hours. I looked into the pot. Eggs and water. I put the lid back on the pot. More peeping. Finally, I couldn't take it any longer and decided I had to find out if it was normal. But who would I call? Certainly not the police. I was pretty sure there wasn't any statute or local ordinance against unhatched chick killing. But maybe it did qualify as cruelty to animals. Did farm animals count the same as domesticated animals for those laws? I wasn't aware of any PETA groups protecting unborn chicks. How about the Humane Society? I never heard of anyone adopting baby chicks from the Humane Society. I didn’t even know where to find that out. Remember, at that time there was no Google, Ask.com or other source for instantaneously obtaining obscure information; there wasn't even an Internet. And time was of the essence.
I was sure the police would think I was either silly or stupid if I called them. But maybe they didn't grow up on farms and they didn't know either so I wouldn't look so stupid. I then thought of someone who did grow up on a farm, and was probably one of the best cooks I'd ever known. But because I was hesitant to call that source directly, I decided to call her son. He hated it when I interrupted him at work, but I knew I had no other choice. I wasn't going to make a fool out of myself by calling my mother-in-law of only three weeks and reporting "peeping" eggs. Surely she'd think I was a dolt, thereby providing her with proof that I really was as inept in the kitchen as she probably thought I was. So, instead I called my husband. Forget the surprise of coloring eggs. I was afraid I was killing chicks. This was surely an important enough reason for interrupting him at work. I set out the details of what had been going on. Thankfully, he didn't laugh at me (a wise decision for a new husband), and he listened calmly as I related to him, rather frantically I'm sure, my saga of the peeping eggs.
By that time, I had removed the eggs from the burner again (just in case). He didn't answer me immediately, so I closely examined the eggs again. Finally, he said that maybe the peeping sound was normal. He suggested that perhaps because the eggshells were porous, the hot water expanded the pores in the shells thereby letting air escape which created the hissing or "peeping" sound. I still wasn't sure, but because the explanation was better than live chicks peeping their little hearts out trying to escape I bought it. I thanked him, took a deep breath and put the pot back on the burner. I turned the water back on, this time with the lid off, and watched as the water reheated. Sure enough, there were little bubbles coming out of the shells that I hadn't noticed before. And though I couldn't be sure, I thought the peeping sounds coincided with the continuous bubbles escaping through the shells.
Our Easter eggs that year were more than a little overdone. Yes, there was a gray-green ring around the yolks. In fact as I remember it, I'd say there was more gray-green to the yolks than yellow. Probably that action of putting them on the heat, taking them off the heat, putting them back on the heat and taking them back off the heat didn't help. I have since learned how to make the "perfect" hard boiled egg (see recipe below). And I still make eggs for coloring at Easter time. But it's not nearly as exciting or traumatic as that first experience. I still can't make hard boiled eggs without hearing that "peeping" noise and envisioning those baby chicks trying to escape. At least that's how I see it!
©2012, 2013 How (or How Not) to Boil an Egg by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
PERFECT BOILED EGGS
Yield: 6 soft- or hard-boiled eggs
Preparation Time (includes cooking and cooling time): Appx. 9 minutes for soft-boiled, 14 minutes for hard-boiled
6 Large Eggs, with no cracks in the shells¹
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1. Place the eggs carefully in a small saucepan and cover with cold water². Water should be at least one-inch higher than the eggs.
2. Add salt to the pan and cover.
3. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil.
4. Once the water has reached the boiling point, turn off the heat but leave pan on the burner for One Minute.
5. After One Minute has elapsed, remove the pan from the burner and set aside, keeping the pan covered.
6. Let the pan sit untouched for the following times depending on the level of doneness you want your eggs: Five Minutes for soft-boiled eggs and Ten Minutes for hard-boiled eggs.
7. Keeping the eggs in the pan, drain off the hot water and cover the eggs completely with cold water and ice cubes. (Fill pan to the top with ice cubes and run cold water over the top until the pan is filled.)
8. Replace ice as necessary to keep the water cold.
9. When the eggs are completely cooled, remove them from the pan and dry them.
10. When the eggs are completely cooled, remove them from the pan and dry them with paper towels.
11. If you are using them immediately, peel and use them, or store them in an air-tight container and place in the refrigerator.
¹Older eggs make the best hard-boiled eggs as the whites separate.
²Always start the eggs in cold water. Do not place the raw eggs into boiling water as the yolk and the white will not cook evenly.
©2012 The Cook in Me: How to Boil an Egg by Kathy Striggow