Whether it's relating the tale of the great American Hot Dog, or pontificating about New Jersey's very own Taylor Ham, or simply, piecing together the evolution of the kitchen, I am completely immersed in my element when playing the part of culinary archaeologist.
At times, I find it hard to digest a man my age finding such joy in unearthing one delicious fact after another in order to convey the tale of nearly every tender morsel that has woven its way through my intestinal tract at one time or another - but hey, that's just the way the cookie crumbles, no pun intended.
To be frank, I really didn't need this question to unexpectedly erupt yet again, interrupting the sanity of this particular day. I say that because no significant amount of concentration, thought, cerebration, intellection, or research I've devoted to the subject has ever gotten me any closer to attaining a palatable answer. I surmise, however, if I were forced to make a choice, I believe I would lean in favor of the chicken; if for no other reason than the overly-simplistic viewpoint, "if there ain't no chicken to lay the egg, there ain't no egg."
The Eggs in the Icebox
Roused from my stupor by a wisp of cool air that slapped softly at my cheeks, I slowly closed the door as a momentary thought fluttered past my sphere of attention.
“What if I wrote the history of the egg?”
By all accounts, I should have raced from the kitchen with my culinary shovel in tow, ready to break ground and dig for clues. But uncharacteristically, I did not.
I laughed off such a ridiculous notion. Seriously, without re-encumbering myself with any of that “what came first?” nonsense, does the egg really have a history? And if by chance it does, could I really pull it off? My mind drifted...
Well, I was certain of my ability to relate to the reader where the egg had derived its name. In fact, it can be tracked to a prehistoric Indo-European rivalry between the Old Norse word "Eg", and the Old English word “Oeg”. Thankfully, sometime during the late 16th-century, someone had their wits about them and Old Norse prevailed. The “Egg” finally had an official name. I, for one, am quite please with the outcome because “Bacon and Oeg” just doesn't have the same ring to it.
But that is not a history of the egg by any means. That merely tells the tale of how we averted the disaster of having to order a Three Oeg Omelet. I needed something far more substantial to proceed.
My thinking cap squarely atop my noggin, I tried convincing myself that if all else failed, I could recount the fondness and many uses ancient cultures had for the incredible edible egg.
I figured I could convincingly recount the affinity the Roman Empire developed for the consumption of peafowl eggs and the unique techniques they concocted to preserve them so they could enjoy their delectable goodness anytime they wished. In fact, so beloved were these delicacies, that most Roman feasts began with an egg course. But that wasn't the only role the egg played in Roman society. Superstitious by nature, dinner plates were often lined with crushed egg shells to keep evil spirits at bay.
"It takes a hen 24 to 26 hours to produce a single egg, and a mere half hour later, she'll begin the entire process again, laying approximately 250 eggs per year."
It seems outlandish to consider their cognizance of scientifically advanced cooking techniques such as placing an egg in cold water over low flame, as well as the light boiling of goose eggs to make them more easily digestible, but their doing so is solidly based in fact. Even more astounding was their grasp of the egg's binding properties and the manner in which they utilized it to develop sauces.
The ancient Greeks also had a thing for eggs. They were particularly partial to quail eggs, and later, expanded their tastes to include that of domestic hens.
They mastered the concept of separating yolks and whites for use in separate dishes, including one referred to as Thagomata.
It struck me that I could mention the fact that during Columbus’s second trip to the New World he carried the first domesticated chickens to the west, and that today, the world enjoys nearly 200 breeds of chicken varieties. However, I am quite certain this information is far more pertinent to the chicken than it is to the egg, and as I mentioned earlier, I have no intention of revisiting that conundrum. Besides, if I did so, I'd also have to mention that amongst those 200 varieties, one a few breeds have any economic impact as egg producers, and that right there would put a serious cramp on the validity of my chicken manifesto. Nope. Nil. Nix. Next.
"The color of an egg is not dictated by a hen's breed, but rather, by the color of her ear lobes."
And yolk color is squarely contingent upon a hen's diet. Natural pigments added to grain feeds produce that bold yellow/orange color we're all familiar with. And what about the eggshell? Well, the eggshell is made of calcium carbonate and is the main ingredient in most antacids.
China is the world leader as egg supplier, producing about 390,000,000,000 each year. The United States accounts for about 10% of the world's production, amounting to about 75 billion per year.
I've often been accused of owning the unique ability to keep myself entertained for days on end amassing and quoting useless facts and information. And really, outside of a word-nerd, history-hound like myself, who would find any of this gibberish interesting. Absolutely no one, I concluded.
As I shut the kitchen light to retire for the evening, another fleeting thought crossed my mind...
"From the moment the first fowl or reptile inhabited the planet, they've been laying eggs. And from the moment early man burst upon the scene and realized his tummy rumbled because leaves and roots weren't cutting the mustard, he 's been gobbling down eggs of fowl and reptile alike like there's no tomorrow."
It was an epiphany that told me all I needed to know and accomplished all my words to paper could not. For right there, within those fifty-two words making up those two sentences, lies the entire history of the egg.