For some 40 years I had never eaten a fresh egg! Does that sound crazy to you? Looking back on it, it sure sounds crazy to me. Naturally I had eaten fresh eggs from the grocery store but never a fresh laid backyard egg or anything like it. That all changed about ten years ago when my neighbor got chickens and soon found himself with so many extra eggs that he started bringing them over to my house by the dozen! With my first bite my eyes were opened – my world, and my breakfast would never be the same.
For weeks my nice neighbor provided me with eggs and I gladly offered to pay for them. It was a super deal for the both of us until one day I saw him getting into his car and asked if he had any eggs I could buy.
“Nope,” he sighed, “for some reason they just haven’t been laying lately.”
This was a real problem for the both of us. After some research we learned what any of you who have ever kept chickens knows all too well: while your consumption of eggs tends to remain fairly constant all year long, your hens’ production of these enjoyable gems of nutrition doesn’t. That bit of homestead knowledge led us to look into ways to preserve our bounty for leaner times.
The 1000 Year Old Egg
There is an old joke that states, “The best way to keep an egg fresh is to keep it in the chicken.” That may well be, but it was not what we needed so we went to the library and started doing some research. That led us to the 1000 year old egg. Okay, I can hear you now, “A 1000 year old egg? Yuck!”
That’s what I thought too, but it turns out that this Chinese delicacy, also called a century egg, is made by preserving chicken, duck, or quail eggs in a mixture of ash, clay, quicklime, salt and rice hulls for several weeks to several months. The eggs, of course, are not really preserved for a century, let alone 1000 years! That’s just a cute name they give to eggs preserved in this way. This process causes the yolk of the eggs to take on a creamy, cheese-like texture, and it transforms the whites into a dark-colored jelly.
According to legend, these eggs have existed for centuries, with their accidental discovery dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China. A resident of the Hunan province supposedly discovered duck eggs in a pool of leftover slaked lime from the construction of his house two months earlier.
After tasting the eggs, he decided they were so good he had to make more. I don’t know if I could have or would have tasted those eggs, but hey, maybe the poor guy was really hungry! Later, people improved on the method by adding wood ash, quicklime and salt to increase the pH and sodium content of the clay mixture. This addition of natural alkaline compounds sped up the process and also helped prevent spoilage.
If you want to try making your own, you should know that modern “1000 year old eggs” are soaked in a brine of salt, calcium hydroxide and sodium carbonate for 10 days, followed next by up to 15 weeks of aging wrapped in airtight plastic. It seems that the egg becomes easier to digest because alkali breaks down protein and fat which also lowers the cholesterol level of the eggs.
Although not aesthetically pleasing, it does not mean that “1000 year old eggs” are unsanitary or poisonous. They are just not very pleasing to the Western pallet. However, if you are up for the challenge there are many ways to enjoy century eggs. They can be broken up in small pieces on top of chilled silken tofu, and seasoned with chopped spring onions, sesame oil and soy sauce. Or as the Cantonese like them, sliced egg wedges topped with very thinly sliced pickled ginger. Another Cantonese specialty is a rice congee with shredded salted pork and century egg.
However they are prepared, these unlikely delicacies are loved all over China.
So my neighbor and I gave it some thought and agreed with each other that “1000 year old eggs” were out! But we did find some other great ways to preserve extra eggs, and it was really much easier than we thought it would be.
Easy Ways to Preserve Fresh Eggs
Method #1 – Refrigeration
One thing we quickly learned was that eggs can be stored for up to two to three months at temperatures below 55 F without doing anything to them. This was great news but we found that we had to carefully monitor the humidity. We discovered that it consistently needed to be close to 75%. If humidity levels were too low, the eggs dried out; if too high, the eggs sometimes got moldy. Also it was important to use only clean, uncracked eggs. If the egg needed cleaning we used it for breakfast not for storing long term. When a chicken lays an egg, it has a natural coating on it known as the bloom. This bloom is a layer of protection for the egg which keeps out oxygen as well as harmful bacteria and germs. Anytime you wash or dry buff an egg, you are removing that protective outer coating which in turn allows bacteria to more easily enter the egg, causing spoilage.
Method #2 – Coat Your Eggs with Mineral Oil for Long Term Storage
Yes, this does work. What coating the egg with oil does is it seals the shell to prevent evaporation during storage. The eggs you’re going to store this way should be oiled and stored within 24 hours of being laid – this is critical so it means that you will not be able to oil and save store bought eggs for the long term. I have heard of folks who used store bought eggs successfully, but it has never worked for me. If you are able to have fresh eggs from your own backyard or a neighbor’s backyard every day, then this method may be right for you.
The process is really easy. In a clean, closed carton stored in a cool, dry place, eggs dipped in oil will keep for several months. In my refrigerator I have kept them for a full year!
To properly oil your eggs, they must be at room temperature to start, that means anywhere from 50 F to 70 F, and they must be dry. Be sure that your oil is free of bacteria and mold by heating it to 180 F for about 20 minutes. Then, with tongs or a slotted spoon, dip the eggs one at the time into the oil. Set them aside on a metal drying rack (not on paper towels or newspaper) and let them drain for about 30 minutes. After they are completely dry pack them away in clean, dry cartons. I recommend storing them in the back of your refrigerator and using them within about 8 months or so.
Of course these instructions for egg preservation only apply to eggs which you intend to cook prior to eating. One really cool thing about preserving eggs this way is that if you love deviled eggs like I do, you will find that your deviled eggs will turn out better. This is because the shells peel off of older eggs better when they are hard-boiled – easier and quicker than they do with fresh eggs. In fact, the only downside I have found is that once the eggs have been oiled, they’re no longer useful for cake or meringue making. The oiling interferes with the foaming properties of the egg whites, so they no longer whip up as well as fresh eggs.
Method #3 – Salt Preservation of Eggs
This is another easy way to preserve your backyard eggs. First off be sure to use only fresh eggs that you have not cleaned. If they age more than 24 hours your chances of success diminish rapidly. Also, exposure to extreme heat or cold will hinder your preservation process, so keep that in mind as well.
I stored my eggs in salt but you can store your eggs in any other finely ground preservative you may have, such as bran, or an equal mix of finely ground charcoal and dry bran, or finely ground oats. You can also store them in finely ground plaster of Paris, but that seems awfully unappetizing to me.
If you are like me and you hate to waste anything, keep in mind that you need not discard the salt or bran you use to preserve eggs. After you have used the eggs that were preserved in the mix you can go ahead and feed the salt and bran to you cattle, if you have cows, or find another use for them.
Now then, stack the eggs and store them small side down. You can store the eggs layer upon layer, so long as you make sure that they don’t touch each other, or metal, or wood. Be sure you have enough finely ground preservative to pack them in well. Store them in a covered container and keep it in a cool, dry place. Old timers often used a root cellar for this. See that you do not allow the eggs to be exposed to freezing temperatures as this will rot your eggs quickly. Properly prepared, these eggs will keep “fresh” for anywhere from 8 to 10 months. In fact, people in some countries are known to have stored their eggs in this way for up to 2 years.
Method #4 – “Freeze Them Eggs, Son”
That’s what one local fella at the farmers market suggested. While I do not have a ton of freezer room, I do know that this works and is certainly easy to do. Freezing is the least time-consuming method for long-term storage, but it is energy dependent. Still, if you do have the freezer room you might want to give it a try.
Eggs can be frozen in many different containers such as freezer bags, mason jars, plastic containers and ice cube trays. These frozen eggcicles perform much like the fresh version when thawed and used. To freeze, simply break the eggs into a bowl, beat to combine the yolks and whites or push through a strainer and pour them into your container and freeze. To save space, I pour the eggs into an ice cube tray and, once frozen, remove them from the tray and place in a freezer bag. As a guide remember that:
•1 “egg cube” = approximately 1 egg
• 3 tablespoons frozen egg, thawed = 1 whole fresh egg
• 2 tablespoons frozen egg white, thawed = 1 fresh egg white
• 1 tablespoon frozen yolk, thawed = 1 fresh egg yolk
The beauty of freezing eggs in smaller amounts, such as in an ice cube tray, is that they thaw quickly and allow one to throw together a really quick meal. Between quiches, frittatas, and even “breakfast for dinner,” we are never at a loss for great egg-based meals at my house!
Method #5 – Homemade Powdered Eggs: A Great Long-term Storage Option Using Minimal Space
Okay, okay, so I know that powdered eggs just don’t sound very appealing, especially for those of us that have served in the military. But when reconstituted they have a taste and texture very similar to fresh or frozen eggs. And, it is kinda cool that you can do this as a DIY project.
You can beat the eggs together and dry them or dry the whites and the yolks separately. Reconstituted eggs can be used the same as fresh eggs. You can even use the dried egg whites to make a nice fluffy meringue!
I just had to try this! I dried a dozen eggs and blended them into crumbles and they fit into a 12 ounce mason jar. If I had blended them even more, into a real powder, I’m sure I could have fit that whole dozen into a 1/2 pint jar. That would be 4 dozen dehydrated eggs per quart jar – a really super use of my rather limited pantry space!
The only downfall to this method is the amount of heat that the dehydrator puts out. In the hot summer months here in central Texas, it might be a better idea to freeze the eggs and then thaw and dehydrate them when it is cooler outside. You can use the powdered eggs as follows: 1 tablespoon powdered egg + 1 tablespoon hot water = 1 egg.
To Dehydrate your eggs:
• Line the trays of your dehydrator with parchment or wax paper, folding up all the edges to form a tray so the liquid eggs won’t slide off and make a mess.
• Break your eggs and stir to combine, or separate them and dry the whites and yolks on two different trays.
• Slowly pour the eggs onto the tray, moving your bowl around so as not to pool them in the middle. I also used a spoon to spread the eggs to the very edges of each tray. You will want a very thin layer so that they dry evenly.
• Dehydrate at 135 degrees for 6 to 8 hours or until no moisture is left. It took about 6 hours for a dozen eggs on one tray to fully dehydrate in my unit, your time may vary.
• Stir the eggs about halfway through or a skin will form on the top and outside edges.
• Once dried, crumble the eggs up and store them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid or grind or blend the crumbles into a powder. I put the egg crumbles in the blender and ground them up.
• To use, reconstitute with hot water then cook as normal. When using for baking, simply add the powdered eggs with the dry ingredients and add the same amount of water with the wet ingredients.
Well there you have it, five easy ways you can preserve the bounty your hens provide. From “1000” year old Chinese eggs to homemade powdered eggs that even the grumpiest old Korean War veteran would love, you now know of some great ways to have your eggs around even if your hens aren’t laying. Oh, and as for my neighbor, he learned how to preserve his eggs better than ever before – which was important because I wanted to go right out and get hens of my own!
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