Eggscuse Me

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 7, 2021

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” This, I suppose, is another way of stating the Machiavellian principle that “the end justifies the means” – i.e. to get a good outcome, you sometimes have to employ less-than-good methods.

My problem is that I don’t like breaking eggs – certainly not in the literal sense. A fresh unbroken egg is such a beautiful object. And part of the beauty, to my mind, lies in its fragility. Another part lies in the irreversibility of the act. As we have known from childhood (despite Lewis Carroll’s less tragic version in Through the Looking Glass) once that fragility is shattered, there’s no going back, not even with the aid of “all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.”

For me, this is no abstract cogitation. Since I make all my own meals – and since I like an omelet of my own style – I’m very frequently obliged to break open, not just one, but two beautiful eggs. (Even if I were a vegetarian – which I’m not – eggs are permitted in most vegetarian diets.)

(Incidentally, the size of an egg is apparently not measured by a fixed standard, but is a matter of commercial terminology. There was once a time when you could buy eggs classed as “small.” But those savants we call “market researchers” apparently discovered, at some time in living memory, that people didn’t want “small” eggs. As a result, in my local supermarket, the smallest eggs available are called “Large.” Next up the scale are the “Extra Large” – and the largest of all are called “Jumbo.”)

So there I am, with an egg in my hand, about to do the dastardly deed. No doubt devices are available today which would perform the act with no need for my participation. And I know that large food companies which use thousands of eggs in the preparation of their products have heartless robots which break eggs all day without a qualm.

But I have to steel myself every time I smash one of those lovely delicate ovoids against the edge of the frying pan. And many a time I must first do a series of taps before gathering strength to strike the fatal blow. And – alas! – many (but mercifully, not quite so many) a time, I then strike too hard, penetrating the innards prematurely, with dire consequences I won’t go into here.

Of course, the desired effect is to make just enough of a crack in the shell to enable its two halves to be neatly separated, and the contents to be gently deposited on the frying surface. 

I will not deny that at this point we enter a new realm of aesthetics. The useless shell is now cast away as garbage, and we are confronted with a bright yellow “sun” surrounded by a clear liquid “sky” which, with the application of heat, gradually clouds over. From here on, the culinary arts prevail, and the beautiful oval casing from which this miracle emerged is gone and forgotten.

Yes, of course I know about the chicken who produces this wonder, usually at the cost of its own freedom, and ultimately its own life. And I know there are many other kinds of eggs produced by other species, including our own. But for some reason, as far as gastronomical consumption is concerned, chicken eggs have attained the greatest popularity in our culture.

Not that all chicken eggs are equal. Quite apart from size, there is the major distinction between “white” and “brown” eggs. The pigment is determined by the breed of chicken – and despite legendary differences in nutritional value there is no proven health benefit determined by egg color – nor, for that matter, by the conditions in which the chicken was raised.

But I must conclude with a true egg story which goes back to my childhood in Washington, D.C. At the age of about 11, I was trusted to do certain shopping at our local Safeway market. On one memorable occasion, the item I was assigned to buy and bring home was a carton of a dozen eggs. Don’t ask me how it happened, because I have conveniently forgotten all the details – but the eggs I delivered to my mother were all broken.

My mother had a gift for ridicule – and from that day on, when any other embarrassing peccadillo on my part evoked the memory of that incident, I was known to our family as “Eggs Brilliant.”


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