Sunday, January 1, 2017

Preserving an Eggciting New Year

I am in amazement over the idea that this post begins my sixth year of food blogging.  When I first started I wasn't sure I would be posting consistently at all.  Now I have 129 posts and over 34,000 page views! I've lagged in posting a few times when life got really busy but I have always looked forward to picking out a recipe and giving it a try.

One of the joys of this blog is that I am not restricted to any time period, food stuff, or culture.  I can pick and choose based on what I feel like doing, what looks intriguing, or any other criteria I want to apply.  The joy and freedom is very attractive.

For today's post I tapped into a video posted by Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc.  It is a survey called "The Top 6 Historical Egg Preservation Techniques" where they tried these techniques and reported the success rates of fresh eggs eight months after they were stored without refrigeration.  I was intrigued by the most successful method of storing eggs in lime water.  I have the perfect ceramic container and eggs are reasonable in price so why not?

I researched the web for instructions from any time period and found this document published in 1935 by the US Department of Agriculture:  "Home Method of Preserving Eggs."  They list two methods, one that coats the eggs in water glass (sodium silicate) and the other uses lime water.

Here is a clip from the document:

I used the directions as specified but scaled down to a usable quantity for my needs.

Preserving in Lime Water

Scald 2 pounds of unslaked or hydrated lime in a little water and then stir this into 5 gallons of water that has previously been boiled and allowed to cool.  Allow the mixture to stand until the lime settles and pour off the clear liquid.  Place clean, fresh eggs in a clean earthenware crock or jar and pout in the clear lime water until the eggs are covered.  At least 2 inches of the solution should cover the top layer of eggs.

Two dozen eggs and some Cal.
My Notes

Before purchasing the eggs I had to acquire the hydrated or slaked lime.  Here was the challenge!  I saw some at a building supply store but it came in granules and I wasn't convinced it was pure enough for food use.  It was in the gardening section.

I looked online and saw that another name for it is "pickling lime" because it is used to make pickles crunchy.  I could buy it in one pound bags for as low as about $3 but the shipping was often $10 or more.  I wasn't sure how much I would need but I really didn't want to have a great quantity sitting around after the experiment.

So I decided to check out some local grocery stores.  My daughter had this brilliant idea:  Check out a store that specializes in Mexican/Hispanic foods since pickling lime is also used to make masa.  That was the key!  At the tortilleria they had huge bags of "Mississippi Lime" and were willing to sell me a pound of it.  At the cost of 85 cents per pound.  This was amazing!  I knew it was food grade and I learned the Spanish name for it was "Cal", as in "Calcium hydroxide."  It is a pure white powder, very finely ground.

I read a wide variety of websites that talk about using lime water to preserve eggs.  Most suggest you use freshly laid, wiped-but-not-washed eggs because they come with their own natural sealant.  This wasn't going to happen with store-bought eggs but someone suggested that Vaseline might be a good replacement.

We decided to preserve two dozen eggs.  One dozen used just as we got them from the store.  One dozen marked with a "V" and lightly coated in Vaseline.  It is a petroleum jelly that is safe for human consumption and, being non-organic, will not go rancid like butter or other animal or plant fats.

I guessed that I would need about 1 gallon of lime water to cover the eggs, so I adjusted the 5 gallons to 2 pounds ratio down to 160 ounces water and 8 ounces of lime.  The day before I wanted to preserve the eggs I measured out the water (it nearly filled my 6 quart kettle), brought it to a rolling boil, then turned off the heat and allowed it to cool over night (it was covered the whole time).

Then I weighed out the lime and stirred it a little at a time into the water.  I forgot to scald it first!  The powder was not inclined to dissolve into the water immediately but constant stirring and adding it slowly helped.  The water went from clear to cloudy to opaque and very milk-like in its look.  Once all the lime was in I let the container sit until the cloudy part settled.

The eggs were marked and rubbed with the Vaseline and then placed into my ceramic crock.

We took ladles and carefully scooped out the clear liquid.  I noticed a thick layer of white powder at the bottom of the kettle.  It was good that I mixed up more than I needed since I had to leave some of the liquid behind with the white layer.

See the white layer in the kettle?
I carefully poured the lime water over the eggs until the crock was as full as it could be.  Yes, the level was about two inches above the eggs.  I put the lid on and put a note on it with the date and contents.

Ready to sit.
The left-over lime water went into the compost pile.

The Verdict

The method for making the lime water was certainly easy to do.  I would call the process a success.  As to its actual ability to preserve the eggs...

My plan is to check two eggs (one Vaseline, one not) a month to see how they are doing.  Do they smell right?  Are they firm enough to use?  If I use them, do they taste right?  This gives me a little side post to add every month.

Some websites mentioned that the lime water will eventually start eroding the egg shells.  In fact, I found an old patent application that suggested putting crushed shells into the water so they would erode first, though I am not sure how that would guarantee the crushed shells would have priority over the whole shells.  Perhaps the Vaseline will stop that.

You can see in the document that "Fresh, clean eggs, properly preserved, can be used satisfactorily for all purposes in cooking and for table."  It says the eggs should be good for 6 to 9 months!  The Jas. Townsend video had a 100% success rate after 8 months (no bad eggs).  I hope this works for me.  Stay tuned for monthly updates.

The USDA document mentions that the best results are using lime water without added salt.  This is because some records mention putting in salt to help preserve the eggs.  I have the feeling that the salt does not help keep the eggs in "newly laid" condition by pulling water from the white.

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