Eggs, meat, and milk each contain the element known as "albumen," and they each require special care in cooking to give best results in flavor of food and in capability of assimilation. Eggs are universally used as food during such portions of the year as they are moderate or cheap in price. It is a matter of regret that they are at other times discarded from the bill of fare in the form of plain eggs, and used only in cakes and such mixtures. Better leave off the cake, which is at best a questionable food, and use the eggs in their own form, since they are known to be wholesome food, and also promote good health by giving variety when it is much needed.
The hen furnishes by far the greater portion of the eggs which are used as food. The eggs of the guinea fowl, duck, and goose are used to some extent. The eggs of some wild birds are greatly esteemed. Plover eggs are much used in England and Germany. In the United States, the eggs of some seabirds, as gulls, terns, herons, and murres are gathered in large quantities. The eggs of some of the inhabitants of the water are highly prized, viz., those of the turtle, the shad, and the sturgeon. Turtle eggs are generally used to embellish the dish prepared from the turtle meat. The eggs of the sturgeon are usually preserved in salt, and made into an edible known as "caviar." Shad-roe is usually broiled or sauted, and served with the fish, or made into a salad.
Hens' eggs are prepared and served in a great many ways, and enter into the composition of many dishes.
When in skillful hands, they are unexcelled as a means of producing light and delicate cakes, palatable muffins, cornbreads, etc. With milk, they become the thickening agent in sauces, custards, puddings, etc. Whether they are used alone, or combined with other foods, the principle in cooking remains the same, - they must have a moderate, even heat. The difference in appearance and texture of eggs cooked properly and those cooked quickly in a high heat can be readily shown by the use of a test tube. Put some white of egg in a test tube, and hold the tube In boiling water until the egg is hard boiled. On examination, it will be found tough and somewhat elastic, and smaller in bulk than before heating. Cook a custard, an omelet, or an angel cake at a high heat, and the effect on the egg will be seen in a watery custard, a fallen omelet, and a flat angel cake. Take another test tube, and put the same amount of egg into it, and immerse in water, but do not allow the temperature to rise above 1600 F. On examination, the egg will be found coagulated, but easily divided, - more like excellent jelly in consistency. Now take two eggs of the same size, or as nearly the same size as possible, and from the same room, that the temperature may be the same. Immerse one egg in boiling water two minutes, open it at once, and you will find a thin coating of white next to the shell, where the heat was most intense, and the rest of the white- will be a milky semi-fluid or raw mass; the yolk will be fluid and warm, but raw. Boil a pint of water in a graniteware saucepan, immerse the other egg, set it on the table, and let stand six minutes. An egg which has stood in a room at summer heat, treated thus, will show a jelly-like white, scarcely cooked enough to change the flavor of a raw egg; but if taken from the refrigerator, and put into water of the same amount and temperature, the white nearest the shell will be white and creamy, and the other apparently raw. An egg taken from a room at summer heat, and immersed in a pint of water which is boiling when set off, and left ten minutes, will give an egg cooked just a little more than the six-minute egg. An egg treated in the same way, and left twenty minutes, will give the white well cooked, and the yolk nearly all cooked.
An egg cooked in water, the thermometer in which stands at 1600 to 1650 F., will be stiff enough in twenty minutes so that the yolk will stand up like a marble. The thermometer must not go above 1650 F., nor below 1600 F., during time of test.
When an egg is cooked in the ordinary way, whether medium or soft boiled, it is allowed to remain in the boiling water until it is thoroughly cooked, and the yolk set; but the white nearest the shell is necessarily hard and horny, because the heat constantly acts on it, while that farther away toward the center of the egg does not begin to cook at once. Such an egg will be acted upon by the digestive fluids with more difficulty, because mastication divides it into small, hard bits, while the egg with the creamy white presents no such obstacle to digestive action. An egg hard boiled in boiling water shrinks more and becomes harder than either the soft or medium boiled, because subjected for a longer time to the action of the boiling water.
Those who have made experiments to ascertain how eggs cooked for different lengths of time compare in digestibility find that the time of cooking affects the rate of digestion, but does not materially affect the total digestibility of the food. The experiments were, of course, made on a healthy man. It seems reasonable to believe that an egg cooked at a temperature below the boiling point, on account of its jelly-like consistency, and the ease with which it can be divided and acted upon in the mouth and stomach, would certainly be better for a delicate stomach. It seems that a hard-boiled egg, unless thoroughly masticated, would present some difficulty to the digestive fluids, even in a healthy stomach. Americans are rapid eaters, and consequently their food is not always well masticated.
Eggs for the table should be perfectly fresh. A stale egg has a poor flavor, and a less pleasing appearance than a fresh egg, whether in the shell or prepared in some other way. There are many stages of staleness.
A perfectly fresh egg will show a clear red when looked through toward the light. An egg in which there is a spider-like appearance has probably been set on two or three days. An egg in which dark spots are seen near the larger end has been left too long in a dirty or warm hen house, and successive layers have heated it. Eggs which have lain several weeks, or have been packed some time, may have a musty taste.
Eggs to be served in the shell must be positively fresh. A warm egg cup should be sent with each order. The egg cup may be large enough to break the egg into, or, if the guest prefers, he may have a cup so small that the egg will rest in the top of the cup, and can be eaten from the shell with a spoon, thus insuring its remaining hot, The flavor of a fresh egg is usually satisfactory, though there are cases in which improper food affects the flavor of the eggs deleteriously.
Eggs, to be perfectly fresh and nice, should be gathered two or three times a day and kept in a cool, well-ventilated place. When eggs are strictly fresh, they will keep for some time at a temperature of 6o° F. Siebel states that 32° to 330 F. is the best temperature for storage eggs when packed in the shell. Eggs should never be kept with anything which has a strong or disagreeable odor, as they readily absorb whatever is in the surrounding atmosphere. For further information on preserving and packing eggs see Farmers' Bulletin No. 128, United States Department of Agriculture. In packing eggs for home use, it is better to use only those with clean shells, and pack unwashed. Eggs in bulk are sometimes kept in cold storage. In this case, the contents of the shell are separated, the yolks beaten enough to mix them thoroughly, put into tin cans and frozen. The egg whites are packed in cans and frozen also. They can thus be bought separately if one wishes. They will not keep long after thawing.
The egg powders, etc., found on the market are not usually very satisfactory, even when eggs are high; but there are cases in which the product seems to be genuine egg, dried and coarsely ground. These give satisfactory results, but they are not always found reasonable in price.