Jan 10, 2024–I have come to the conclusion there is no more perfect universal human food than the egg.
For some of you this might seem obvious. But it’s a case of forest and trees, as most of us grew up with eggs everywhere, so much so that we don’t see them.
It became obvious to me in my social media feeds. For some reason, we seem fascinated with how people in different cultures prepare eggs. From street vendors cooking over open fires in garbage can lids to French chefs scrambling œufs au beurre in stainless steel skillets, eggs can be part of every meal in every cuisine.
The most exotic example was on one of those “I’ll eat anything” reality shows. Our host watched while an aborigine scrambled an ostrich egg by dropping the contents directly into the hot ashes of a campfire. The enormous egg sizzled and steamed while the chef prodded and flipped the concoction. Even with bits of ash, stone, and dirt embedded in it, I would have wolfed down that breakfast. As a boy scout dad, I in fact did eat similar meals prepared by sleep-deprived 11-year-old campers. Dad Tip: Take lots of hot sauce on any camping trip.
My own early experiences with eggs were during breakfast while growing up on the farm. As sleepy kids with Alfalfa hair shuffled into the kitchen of a morning, Mom would have breakfast piling up. She started with thick cut bacon frying in the cast iron skillet. After cooking half a hog, she laid the strips on a pile of paper towels. Into the sizzling grease went the eggs from a neighbor’s farm, many double-yolked. How did she cook them? Simple–swimming in grease while using the metal spatula to splatter more grease over the top of the eggs. It was a thing of beauty to watch, smell, and eat.
Onto the plate went the bacon and eggs, alongside a thick slab of toasted fresh-baked bread slathered with butter and homemade grape jelly. This was in the days before we were warned that eggs, grease, bacon, and bread were bad for you. Interestingly, I’m now convinced this is the real breakfast of champions, and have returned to it every morning.
Eggs are beautiful because there are so many ways they can be cooked, as well as be used to enhance other foods. Eggs can be scrambled, flipped, whipped, sauteed, boiled, coddled, creamed, steamed, cooked over easy, caught in a sandwich, topped on a burger, Benedicted, even swallowed raw the morning after.
When we were sick with any type of stomach ailment, dad served us poached eggs, cracking them directly into boiling water, then slicing them on top of unbuttered toast.
Have a potluck on the calendar? Time for deviled eggs, the first appetizer to disappear in every church basement.
Unlike two people in a bad relationship, eggs still function when broken down and separated. The whites can be whipped into a meringue, and the yolks are the base for delicious sauces, custards, and dressings.
And their emulsifying quality is legendary. Without eggs, pancakes wouldn’t cake, cookies wouldn’t cook, and ice cream wouldn’t cream. Can you imagine Easter without eggs? It would be a festival as hollow as the chocolate-y rabbits we pretend to like.
The Faberge family so worshipped the egg they created a priceless line of bejeweled orbs that continue to beguile over a century later.
Esthetically, the shape of the egg is elegant as well as functional. The egg has served as the beginning of life for more than 10,000 species since the dinosaurs.
Mathematically, the shape of the egg possesses the key to “help us to understand a mathematical harmony of the universe,” in the words of one researcher.
According to mathematicians, engineers, and biologists, the egg represents the “perfect shape.” It is large enough to incubate an embryo, small enough to exit the body efficiently, shaped so as not to roll away, and structurally sound enough to bear weight, even with sides as thin as… well… as thin as an eggshell. I’ve impressed many of my science students by challenging them to crush an egg while holding it end-to-end in one hand. It cannot be done.
And if it could, I’d catch it in a pan, scramble it, and eat it.