The Egg

Over the years my taste in eggs has varied from sunny side up, soft centers and crispy edged whites, then I liked them scrambled in butter with a little milk. This lasted all through middle school, when over-easy was the way I liked ’em. Now it’s soft poached, with the water drained off slid onto a tortilla with some cheese and beans and salsa.

In 1957 when we lived on Elm Street we bought our eggs from the Egg Lady, who earned spending money, making the rounds, from the farm to our small-town mid-western neighborhood. She always opened the gray pulp-molded box before she took the money. She’d replace any broken ones. In winter she had gloves with the fingers cut off to roll the eggs around to look for cracks. I remember those eggs as especially tasty, lots of doubles and usually a blood spot. My mother would wash them before they went into the fridge to get off the feathers stuck to chicken droppings.

The egg is an adaptation to disperse and generate many multiple young to do battle with the feeders on eggs who grow wileier as the egg laying increases. It’s a dynamic rolling relationship of more eggs, more feeders, more eggs, more feeders, as the eons roll on.

A good strategy comes along to lay the eggs inside the body as we see in the Coelacanth, the ancient fish from 400 million years ago, and that creature is still with us. To lay the egg inside the mother, to hatch inside the body, was a great trick of economy. No need to lay the thousands, feeding the multitudes.  Some Sharks and Rays do it that way or lay their young in little pouches, embryos protected in leathery bags called Mermaid’s Purses. Then there is the famous fossil of an Ichthyosaur, from dinosaur times caught in death shadowed in stone, giving birth to its young alive. Some snakes do it this way too and stick with their young.

I have seen long strings of glassy frog’s eggs strung in amongst swampy reeds, bantam tadpoles jerking, ready to swim free. I’d find rosy clumps of Salmon eggs in amongst the pebbles in our backyard creek lolling in the smooth water. The neat rows of insect eggs under a leaf, looked manufactured. Fuzzy balls of spider eggs are under the bed, in the dark corners and I once saw a spider ball hanging from a twig in morning light, covered with clear dots like drops of dew. I blew on it and hundreds of spiderlets dropped on threads, then parachuted into the breeze.

Breaking the dependency on water, those first reptiles and insects had to make watertight cases for the precious life stuff and fill it with powerful nutrients. Hard shell eggs came in with the reptile-like mammals in the Permian. We find fossils of ancient ones just emerging into the air caught by some killing disaster. Climbing into the trees I saw more than once the little turquoise Robin’s eggs, nestled into the smooth curve of mud and sticks. Eggs and nests go right together. The alligator builds up a massive mound of grass to lay their leathery eggs, the grass composting gives just the right heat to incubate the embryos into little toothy chirpers.

All that nutrient packed tight in its own container…MMM Omelets, soufflés, deviled eggs and sweet temago from Japan. Julia Child’s demonstration of omelet making is not to be missed. I’ve made dinner for 10 in the time it takes to crack the eggs.

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