Growing up in a family like mine, the inability to boil an egg was the epitome of uselessness. It didn’t matter if you had a masters in nuclear physics or worked as a brain surgeon at Barts. Intellectual genius without the balance of common practicality marked you down as fundamentally flawed and placed an unnecessary burden on others!
Whether or not you agreed with this was of no consequence to the formidable matriarchs of my father’s family who for generations formed the back bone of the Womens’ Institute and Mothers Union. Cooking ability was not confined to the women of the family either. My grandfather was a master baker, regularly winning gold medals for bread and pork pies.
He was also a farmer which meant the family was surround by an abundance of fresh, wholesome food, including eggs which were served daily, in various forms, often more than once.
The rambling farmhouse kitchen accommodated three families consisting of five children, a baby and six adults who most mornings sat down to the full English, (bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, friend bread), for the adults and boiled eggs and soldiers for the children. My grandmother did all the cooking, (but never the washing up!) and somehow managed to get everyone served at once.
My aunt was also a good cook. She could knock up a springy Victoria sponge with the flick of a spatular in the morning and take the home bakery cup at the village show the same afternoon.
Alas, my mother was the burnt sheep of the family! Her main cooking implement was a tin-opener and her idea of culinary adventurousness was a Vesta beef curry. She could boil an egg though which when we moved from my grandfather’s farm to our own smallholding, we continued to have on a daily basis.
Having a mother who couldn’t cook was somewhat frustrating for a child who couldn’t wait to get her hands on the shiny, (but mainly unused), pans and dishes languishing in our cupboards. Unfortunately, although she was a poor cook, my mother was extremely house proud and the thought of a ten year old trashing her kitchen usually brought on a migraine which meant my sister and me had to “play outside.”
Where there is a will there is a way and my first cooking adventure did begin with boiling an egg as I shall relate! I was about ten years old and it was high summer. It must have been a Sunday as Ma and Pa were both outside sitting on old kitchen chairs under an apple tree. Ma was smoking and flicking through Womans’ Own, Pa putting a string handle on a bucket.
I could tell it would be hours before any sign of tea appearing so thought I’d take matters into my own hand. In the kitchen stood a huge old copper which served as a work surface. Ma kept the eggs here stored in a large mixing bowl, well why wouldn’t you? She never made pastry! As the hens were laying like there was no tomorrow, there was also a smaller bowl containing four additional eggs which I assumed were the over spill from the mixing bowl. Unlike those in the mixing bowl, the shells were scratched and very dirty which was a bit of a puzzle, but I just assumed that Ma hadn’t got around to washing them.
Eager to flex my culinary muscles, I decided to surprise everyone with boiled eggs and soldiers for tea and score a few brownie points from Ma by using the dirty looking eggs in the small bowl. I carefully washed the dirt from the eggs before boiling the kettle and filling a pan with the water. It was at this point things began to go wrong!
My pan was so full with water that when I added the eggs what seemed like gallons of the stuff poured over the lip and hissed and spat all over the cooker. As the ring was on maximum the kitchen filled with steam and poured through the open window. Thinking the house was on fire, Pa grabbed his bucket and ran to the bath we used to water the calves and both hot footed into the kitchen to be met by a violent explosion followed by the most disgusting smell I’d ever encountered!
What I hadn’t realised, the four separate eggs had spent the past three weeks under a broody hen and have proved to be duds. Pa had removed them when the others had hatched, but for some reason had brought them into the house instead of throwing then on the muck heap as was his wont.
As you can imagine, these eggs were well and truly addled. Plunging them into boiling water is not the correct way to boil eggs anyway, it should be simmering and in this case the fermenting gasses inside quickly expanded in the heat and exploded! The rotten egg smell is caused by the gas sulphur dioxide which I was to encounter with similarly startling results several years later in my general science lessons, but that’s another story!
Several decades later I still keep hens and eggs feature firmly on the daily menu which is how I’ve come to write an egg recipe book. How To Boil An Egg not only explains how to do it, but has lots of simple recipes for creating quick and easy dishes for almost any meal of the day. The recipes are my adaptations of old favourites or new ones passed on by family and friends.