"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Egg-stra Eggs (Preserving and Using Up Eggs)

The equinox must be fast approaching: I'm drowning in eggs. My preferred method for getting rid of extra eggs is to sell them or trade them for things I need more (vegetable starts, seeds, yogurt starter, baked goods, espresso...), but so far this year I haven't set up any good trades. I have been giving away a fair number of eggs, but even so, there are six dozen in the fridge right now.

Over the years, I have developed many recipes for using up eggs, and I'll post more as I come up with them, but there are times when no amount of creative cookery will absorb all the eggs the hens put out. Mid-March is one of those times. Then you need to store eggs.

The first thing to realize is that eggs actually keep much better than most people think they do. If your house is relatively cool (my thermostat is kept at a permanent 64) eggs will keep on the counter for at least a week. Probably longer. In the refrigerator, eggs will last a month, easily. If you have chickens and are collecting eggs on the day they are laid, your eggs will last 8 weeks in the fridge.

Of course, eggs do change somewhat as they age, and fresh eggs are suitable for some purposes while older eggs are better for others. Never try to hard-boil a freshly laid egg - it's impossible to shell. But for making an omelet, use the freshest eggs you have.

Everyone who has chickens will occasionally find - as I did today - a hidden nest filled with eggs and no immediate way to tell how old they are. If eggs are very old - completely spoiled - they will feel like a solid when gently shaken. Throw those eggs away - far away. But assuming they all feel normal, the easiest way to tell how fresh an egg is is to submerge it in water. Fresh eggs sink; bad eggs float. The photo at the top of this column shows a pan full of fresh eggs and one bad egg.
Very fresh eggs sink quickly and lay on their sides. Eggs a bit older but still good will sink to the bottom on the container, but stand on end. Choose those eggs for hard-boiling. And eggs that float on the top should be tossed.

This method, by the way, will NOT tell you if you have a developing embryo inside the egg. If you have roosters, you still run the risk of finding a hideous surprise inside a quick-sinking egg. I have not yet found an easy way to tell if an egg is "developing." The best defense is to collect your eggs daily. Or make your husband crack them.

So: eggs keep for many weeks in the fridge. But that's not good enough for me. I want a way to preserve eggs for six or eight months - so that the bounty of April and May can be used in the dark days of December. My mother told me that she used to preserve eggs by separating them and putting the yolks into ice cube trays covered with salad oil. I can't remember what she said she did with the whites. My research has not corroborated her method, however. Besides, I'd like a way to preserve them without using up all the space in my fridge - that's half the problem right now.

Internet searches have basically turned up two methods, and both of them operate on the same principle. Eggs have porous shells, and if you can seal them so that there is no gas exchange, then your eggs will remain fresh for up to a year. The simple way to do this is to rub the fresh eggs with mineral oil or shortening and then pack them in salt or - for some reason - bran. Many web sites mention bran. The other way is to fins something called "water glass" (also known as liquid Sodium Silicate) and submerge the eggs in a dilute solution of same in a non-reactive crock.
Since I doubt water glass is easy to get a hold of, I would prefer the dry-pack method.

Below, I have excerpted a few passages on how to preserve eggs and provided links to a few more. Interestingly, all sites agree that eggs should be stored small end down for longest shelf life, and this is true even for regular storage in the fridge. I wonder why eggs are universally sold small end up?

How to store eggs
  1. Be sure to use only fresh eggs. If any decomposition occurs, you will be unsuccessful. Also exposure to extreme heat or cold will hinder your preservation process. You can use an oil as well, but the oil can go rancid… not exactly what I would want on my eggs.
  1. Store the eggs in a finely ground preservative such as salt, bran, or an equal mix of finely ground charcoal and dry bran or finely ground oats. You can also store them in finely ground plaster of Paris, but that’s not exactly something that I plan on having on hand regularly. You can store the eggs layer upon layer, so long as you they don’t touch each other, metal, or wood. Be sure you have enough finely ground preservative to pack them in. (You can feed the salt and bran to the cattle afterwards.)
  2. Store the eggs small side down.
  3. Store the eggs in a covered container and keep in a cool, dry place. You don’t want to store them in freezing temperatures.
  4. Eggs will keep “fresh” for up to 9 months. In fact, some countries are known to have stored their eggs like this for up to 2 years. (Preserving Fresh Eggs « Preparedness Pro)
There are two ways that I know of to store eggs without refrigeration. They both require cool temperatures, however. A cellar, cool basement or cool room in the house will suffice. The cooler the better the chance that your eggs will last longer.

The first method is to coat the eggs with a non-toxic substance, sealing the pores in the shell and thereby sealing out oxygen and moisture. When oxygen is present, many bacteria can grow, thus spoiled eggs.

To use lard or shortening to coat the eggs, first melt the grease and cool it til it begins to solidify again. Dip each egg in the melted grease individually and set them on a paper towel to dry. When the shortening or lard is dry on the eggs, rub the eggs with a clean towel, removing excess solid grease. Rub gently and buff each egg. Now repeat the process, before the shortening solidifies. Work fast, allowing the shortening to get almost solid before re-heating it.

Line the bottom of a flat box with a clean soft towel. Place the eggs in the box in a single layer. Cover the box with either a lid or another towel. Place the box of eggs in a cool, dry environment. Eggs prepared this way will last up to 6 months, although I have heard people say that they have kept eggs this way for 1 year if they are kept very cool.
A product used to coat eggs in this way, but that is supposed to keep the eggs fresh longer is K-Peg. The eggs are coated with this product much the same way they would be coated with the shortening, and prepared for storage the same way.

The other way to keep eggs works on the same principle, cover the pores and keep the eggs cool. However, the eggs must be kept immersed in a solution of Liquid Sodium Silicate. It is usually mixed with sterilie water.

Liquid Sodium Silicate is a non-toxic substance that will cover the pores of the egg shell so well that you will probably be able to keep fresh eggs for up tp 2 years! You can buy it as Sodium Silicate Solution at any pharmacy, however they may not have it on hand and have to order it for you.

Again, you will have to keep the temperatures very cool and the humidity low.

Place clean fresh eggs in a ceramic crock, one layer deep. Pour liquid sodium silicate over the eggs until the eggs are covered and completely immersed in the solution.
Place a towel over the crock and tie it into place. Place the crock of eggs in a cool, dry place and don't disturb them til you are ready to use them. To use them, just take out how many eggs you need, wash them off in clear water and use as you normally would. (How to Store Fresh Eggs)


Olive said...

I can remember the ising-glass method of preserving eggs from WW2 days ( I was VERY young) they tasted fowl Oooops, I mean foul !!! (lol) You would be disappointed with that method Aimee believe me.
When we have a glut of eggs we have a day of making pasta, it keeps for months, but you must be careful that it is completely dry before storing it in airtight containers. It tastes very much better than the commercially made pasta. We usually make the fettuccini narrow ribbon type and use it for all of our pasta dishes.

Aimee said...

Thanks for the heads-up, olive! I won't bother looking for isinglass. I think using your eggs to make storable goods is a wonderful idea- when I have lots of both eggs and milk, I make ice cream for the chest freezer. But I could also make quick reads and freeze them!

Jerry said...

Candling might help to avoid that hideous surprise?

Laura said...

You can also freeze them. Mix an egg up (white and yolk), and put it in a muffin tin.Repeat. When it's full, freeze it, then pop out the individual "eggs" and put them in a freezer bag. I do this with buttermilk for bread baking. Since I have to heat the muffin tin to get them out, I make sure that they are all separate when I return them to the freezer, but after they've refrozen, they can be tossed together.

Holly said...

Hope I don't have need of doing this and my chickens just continue to lay and lay but just in case, this is great information to have on hand.

Unknown said...

I freeze eggs very simply by putting them in a freezer bag and poking a small hole in each yolk. Then I squeeze out all the air I can (and, yes, I have gotten covered with egg doing this part!) and pop the back flat in my chest freezer.
I have tried them after weeks and months (as long as 4 months so far) and they are just as good as fresh.
I usually do them in dozens, but occasionally I will do a "5 bag" as my mother's amazing cheesecake recipe calls for 5 eggs. ;)
Thanks for all the fantastic ideas here on your blog, btw, it's wonderful!