I love eggs.
My favourite ways to eat them are soft-boiled for breakfast and Devilled Eggs anytime, especially when my Stratford friend, actor Richard Fitzpatrick, makes them. But it’s all good: scrambled, fried (with runny yolk), an omelette, a quiche, a frittata.
Eggs can be at the heart of sweet sauces (I’m looking at you, lemon curd) or savory; it’s hard to imagine artichokes without Hollandaise.
Eggs are also cooking workhorses: in one of those maddeningly unattributed quotes, used on the American Egg board website and appearing everywhere from a small paper in New Mexico to The New York Times, eggs are called “the cement that holds together the castle of cuisine”.
Eggs were omnipresent in my childhood. There was a big egg-grading station on the outskirts of my hometown and Bonnie’s Chick Hatchery right on the main street. We usually bought eggs directly from one of the many farmers who sold them; often the eggs would be in a shed or porch and you’d pay cash for what you bought, leaving your money in a box provided.
Egg farming is approaching a billion-dollar annual industry in Canada, today. About three quarters of the eggs sold are “table eggs” (sold as is) and the rest are “processed eggs”, made into frozen, dried or liquid forms used in manufacturing and institutional cooking. The federal Agri-Food Canada website says that the “average Canadian flock size was 20,811 hens. Canadian egg farms can range from a few hundred to more than 400,000 hens. The average laying hen produces about 305 eggs per year.”
Eggs got a bad rap in the 1980s and 1990s: because the yolks are high in cholesterol, they were believed to increase human cholesterol, as well, and medical authorities were sternly warning people to cut back on their eggs. Part of the problem is that, for some people, an egg breakfast also means fatty bacon or sausage, the eggs cooked in the meat grease, hashbrowns or other fried potatoes, and white-flour toast, with butter; convert that into an omelette cooked on a lightly oiled pan with heaps of fresh veggies added in, and a whole grain biscuit on the side, and you have a far different nutritional story.
There’s also differing views on the best way to store eggs safely. A recent New York Times article explained that Americans always refrigerate eggs, while Europeans rarely do, because American eggs, by law, are washed to remove potential Salmonella bacteria. However, “washing the eggs also cleans off a thin, protective cuticle devised by nature to protect bacteria from getting inside the egg in the first place.
“With the cuticle gone, it is essential — and, in the United States, the law — that eggs stay chilled from the moment they are washed until you are ready to cook them. In Europe and Britain, the opposite is true. European Union regulations prohibit the washing of eggs. The idea is that preserving the protective cuticle is more important than washing the gunk off.”
The Canadian government’s policy hews close to the American one, recommending keeping eggs in the coldest part of the fridge, which is at the back, even though practically every refrigerator ever made has a shelf for eggs in the door. If I get eggs directly from a farmer, and they haven’t been washed, I’ll put them in a pretty bowl on the counter.
Eggs, as a symbol of new life and fertility, are traditional for Easter-time and other springtime observances that came before Christianity. Eggs can be hard boiled and the shells dyed; egg-shaped candies and chocolates proliferate. At Easter, my mother often made a cake with eight (yes, eight) eggs. If you are feeding a crowd at Easter — this is one big cake — I suggest you do the same.
Mary Teahen’s Candy Confetti Torte
Ingredients for cake batter, part 1
1½ cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup sugar
½ cup egg yolks (8 eggs)
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Ingredients for cake batter, part 2
1 cup egg whites (8 eggs)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
Sift flour and ¾ cup sugar into bowl. Make well in centre. Add egg yolks, water, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat by hand until smooth.
In another bow, beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt with electric beater until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar (3/4 cup) gradually, 2 tbsp at a time. Continue to beat until stiff meringue forms.
Fold first flour mixture gently into meringue. Pour batter into an ungreased 10” tube pan. Break air bubbles (slice through repeatedly with a knife).
Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or more. Invert pan until cool, about 1 hour, and remove cake. Split/cut crosswise into four equal layers.
Ingredients for topping
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup blanched, toasted almond halves (or slices)
sponge toffee, crumbled
Whip the cream until soft peaks form and fold in sugar and vanilla. Spread half between layers and rest on top of cake.
Sprinkle with crushed sponge toffee and decorate with almonds.
Note: A variation on this cake has lemon curd spread thinly between the cake layers and the whipped cream applied to the sides and top of cake; if lemon curd is used, reduce amount of cream whipped.
Main photo: Kelley Teahen