sure as EGGS IS EGGS

Whether scrambled, chocolate or Fabergé, nothing says Spring quite like eggs by Joe Campbell

Eggs Chickens Free Range Barn Hens

eggs. Such a simple ingredient, but one that has played a hugely important role not just in cuisine, but in culture too. Though they can be thought of initially as somewhat plain and dull, when we consider eggs as a whole – their versatility, their differences and their range of meanings in different cultures – it is almost impossible to imagine the world without them. Of course, from a biological viewpoint, eggs are one of the building blocks of life, but even just from a culinary perspective their importance cannot be understated.

It is almost impossible to say when eggs were first eaten by man – our best guess dates it back to prehistoric times. Chicken eggs, however, were most likely first eaten on a mass scale at around 7500 BC in southern Asia and India, when the red and grey types of Junglefowl were hybridized and eventually domesticated into chickens. Chickens arrived in ancient Greece at around 800 BC; until then the main types of eggs eaten were that of the quail.

Boiled Egg Soldier Eaten
Many different types of eggs have been eaten throughout history in many different ways. In ancient Egypt, for example, there is evidence that Ostrich, Pelican and other large types of eggs were eaten by the Pharaohs. In the Middle Ages, however, eggs were forbidden during Lent. During the 17th Century, eggs in France were often eaten scrambled with acidic fruit juices, which is thought to be the origin of Lemon Curd.

Poultry farming seems to have been around since chickens were first domesticated, but of course now it is done on an infinitely bigger scale, which has led to many concerns over the welfare of the animals. Although EU law has forbidden the use of the conventional battery cage since 2012, it is still a method widely used throughout the world. To adapt to this European ruling whilst still maintaining the same level of egg production, a more humane method was adopted, using enriched or ‘furnished’ cages. These are said to provide the egg-laying hen with a better standard of life, although this is still argued to be a cruel method of farming. Whilst we might then assume that the free-range method of poultry farming is the best way, it too has its critics, who claim that the over-crowding of some free range farms can lead to cannibalism and disease within the population of chickens, whilst also leaving them vulnerable to predators.

Black Caviar Beluga Sturgeon Roe Delicacy
Chicken eggs, however, are only one type of egg that are eaten by humans. Quail eggs, whilst thought of as ‘gourmet’ in western countries, they are very commonly eaten in many parts of Asia. Duck and goose eggs are relatively common foods in western countries, and even eggs from pheasants, emus and ostriches are eaten, though they are not as readily available. In the UK, gull’s eggs are considered a luxurious and velvety delicacy, and are sold for as much as £5 per egg. This price looks set only to rise. Licences to collect and distribute gull’s eggs are effectively no longer given, and the only opportunity to collect them is a three-week window in the Spring.

It is not only bird eggs that we eat either, with Caviar – made from roe (fish eggs) – being a delicacy in many parts of the world. The roe can be from many different types of fish, but ‘proper Caviar’, the rarest and most expensive type, comes from the Beluga Sturgeon.

Thanks to the Easter celebrations, eggs are always on our minds at Spring. But why are eggs associated with the resurrection of Christ? Well, like other Christian holidays, the practice of decorating eggs was adapted from pre-existing traditions. Decorated ostrich eggs that are estimated to be over 60,000 years old have been discovered in some parts of Africa, and the ancient Egyptians also used to place decorated eggs in graves, perhaps to symbolise new life.

The practice was adopted by early Christians, who stained eggs red to commemorate the blood of Christ, which was eventually recognised officially by the Christian Church, who thought of the eggshell as a representation of Christ’s tomb and the bird inside as a symbol of resurrection and re-birth.

Eggs Ostrich Chicken Emu Lapwing Different Sizes

Eggs from an ostrich, emu, chicken and lapwing

Perhaps the most famous examples of decorated eggs, however, were those made for the Russian Imperial Family by Peter Carl Fabergé. The original Fabergé eggs were made as Easter gifts for the wives and mothers of Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II between the years of 1885 and 1917. The eggs were often elaborately decorated using precious metals and gemstones, and would contain a similarly decorated ‘surprise’ inside. Only 43 of the original 50 eggs made by The House of Fabergé have survived, with some belonging to private collectors and some belonging to museums, making them extremely rare heirlooms. Since 1917, the Fabergé trademark has been sold and used by a number of different companies retailing egg-related treasures, and it is currently owned by Fabergé Limited, who make egg-themed jewellery.

As the sun starts to rise in the sky that little bit earlier, there is really only one food to wake up to. So the next time you’re baking a cake, dipping a ‘soldier’ into a runny golden yolk or knocking back a whole glass of raw eggs Rocky-style (note: there is more absorbable protein in cooked eggs than raw eggs), remember how essential they are to our world and they won’t seem so plain and dull any more. Now we just need to find out which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Also from this Edition:
  • fresh from THE EARTH Truffles, one of the worlds most prized ingredients
  • time for TEA The past and present of Britain's favourite beverage
  • BRUSCHETTA by Studio 6
  • sure as EGGS IS EGGS Whether scrambled, chocolate or Fabergé, nothing says Spring quite like eggs
  • a vision of THE FUTURE FutureFest takes place at Vinopolis on 14th & 15th March
  • A VIEW from the bridge The true story told to Arthur Miller by a NYC lawyer that underpins this play and inspired 'The Hook' and 'On the Waterfront'
  • Live... street ART Freed from the confines of theatres and galleries, artists increasingly explore public spaces and avant-garde ideas
  • Entertainments Listings Spring seasons listings
  • be HAPPY Samuel Beckett's 'Happy Days' has returned to The Young Vic
  • upside down UTOPIA An answer to Safe-Cycling in the capital, and possibly more...
  • london LEARNING Looking to learn something new?
  • new ways TO LIVE The 'Health Tech & You' Awards hit the Design Museum this spring
  • a walk along THE SOUTHBANK The rags-to-riches tale of London's heart of arts and culture
  • DREAM homes A small paradise on the Côte d'Azur

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