What Russians used to do with chicken eggs

In order to diversify the menu served to Russian high society and royalty of XIX century, their chefs invented (and adopted from other cuisines) numerous recipes based on chicken eggs. However, among common people of that time and even more so among villagers and peasants eggs were consumed differently, and now only a couple of “folk” egg recipes are still remembered.

In 1856 Russian playwright Островский was travelling around Russia and had a bit of a gastronomical shock one day: people in the village he was passing through did not know how to make what seemed to be the simplest possible dish – fried eggs. One reason for that could be the poverty of the village, because in many other rural areas fried eggs were quite popular – there was even a village not far from Архангельск called Яичница – fried eggs in Russian! On the other hand, maybe those people just stuck to their usual thing – baked eggs. There were two ways to make them – first one involved putting raw eggs into an empty cast iron or clay pot and then putting the pot in a fire oven for a while. The resulting eggs were also called “tempered” (the Russian word refers to the thing you do to metal to make it harder – expose it to super high temperatures). The second way was to puncture a little hole in the egg with a needle and then put it in hot cinders (or ashes). This preparation is said to give the eggs a pleasant nutty flavor, and also somehow stop them from spoiling easily. This last quality was particularly important at the time – you know, no fridges in the XIX century – so baked eggs were a great option for long trips and as a snack in bars and inns. They were even sold on the streets together with pies and other baked goods – so you can call them the hot-dogs or the kebabs of the XIX century. Nobility had a taste for them too, but with a touch of luxury of course: baked quail eggs in champagne sauce were served at the gala breakfast in honor of the 200th anniversary of St. Petersburg in 1903.

Here’s a fun recipe – the elephant egg (nothing to do with actual elephants, don’t worry). Known since the 1820s, it became popular among wealthy Russian families in 1889. The elephant egg was made using two animal bladders, one bigger than the other – for instance, one cow bladder and one calf bladder. Both had to be washed and dried multiple times to get rid of the smell, and then the smaller bladder was filled with egg yolks, sealed and boiled until the egg yolks got hard. Then you had to fill the big bladder with egg whites and carefully place inside of it the big boiled egg yolk you got from the small bladder. Seal, boil, turning it constantly, take out when hard, take off the bladder and you’ve got yourself something resembling a boiled egg, but much bigger – it took dozens of chicken eggs to make. Sounds like a very rich breakfast to me.

You must be thinking – how did they keep all those eggs if they didn’t have fridges? Well, there were various ways, but one thing people had figured out a long time ago – like many other foods, eggs stayed fresh the longest in cool places. To begin with, something resembling a fridge did exist: in big houses they used to fill the cellars with ice during winter, and then use them as fridges and sources of ice during summer. But even there you had to store eggs carefully – keep them separately and turn them frequently. At the same time, during winters it was important to keep eggs from freezing – cause it gets pretty cold around here in winter, don’t know if you’ve heard. For that eggs were put in boxes with a lot of old ashes for insulation. Lastly, another interesting way – keeping eggs in cold water mixed with lime (the chemical, not the fruit) and tightly sealed.

In case you want to check out the original article: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2669595

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