As poultry keepers, we’re well acquainted with the ebb and flow of egg production. With fall through early spring comes the annual frustration of fewer eggs, often leaving us pondering why we didn’t better prepare for this inevitable seasonal dip. But what if I told you there’s a time-honored technique, straight from our great-grandparents’ playbook, that can keep those farm-fresh eggs pristine and delicious year-round? Enter the process of waterglassing eggs, a method that preserves eggs in their rawest form, shell and all, allowing you to enjoy them as if they were freshly collected.
Preserving eggs through waterglassing enables you to savor farm-fresh goodness for an extended period, typically between one year to 18 months, with some even claiming their eggs remained edible for up to two years or more in the preserving liquid. This ingenious technique dates back to the early 1800s and has been a lifesaver for generations of poultry keepers. In fact, an 1886 cookbook publication, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer, featured instructions on waterglassing eggs using a lime solution for long-term preservation.
A likeness of Fannie Farmer circa the late-1800s.
Because it requires the bloom of the egg to be intact, waterglassing is a preservation process specifically tailored for those who raise poultry or have access to farm-fresh eggs. The method effectively involves submerging clean, unwashed eggs in a water and lime solution to seal off the shell’s pores. This method capitalizes on the properties of calcium hydroxide, commonly known as pickling lime, and the way it interacts with eggshells.
When you create a water and lime solution and submerge the eggs in it, something fascinating happens. The calcium hydroxide in the solution starts to react with the carbon dioxide in the air. This chemical reaction forms calcium carbonate, which subsequently precipitates onto the eggshell. This newly formed calcium carbonate acts as a barrier, sealing the pores of the eggshell. It’s like giving the eggshell an airtight coat. This layer prevents oxygen and bacteria from entering the egg while also preventing the loss of moisture from the egg’s interior.
The result? The egg remains remarkably fresh, with its contents protected from contamination and dehydration. So, whether you’re a dedicated homesteader or fortunate enough to procure farm-fresh eggs, waterglassing offers a straightforward yet invaluable way to ensure you have eggs aplenty during those lean winter months when egg production naturally wanes.
You’ve effectively got an infinite number of options for containers. The container you choose should be airtight to prevent water from escaping and to keep additional contaminants at bay. Personally, I’ve had great success using these 1-Gallon Super Wide-Mouth Airtight Hinged-Lid Glass Jars. They’re reasonably priced and boast a wide-mouth lid, making it a breeze to load your eggs.
When it comes to jar size, you have some flexibility. Larger jars like the ones I prefer can hold a substantial number of eggs, which is fantastic if you’re dealing with a significant egg surplus. However, smaller jars are advantageous for those with more modest flocks or limited storage space. They do take up more room and can be a bit pricier per egg, but they’re easier to manage when you need to access your egg stash. If you’re looking for a middle-ground option, consider this set of Half-Gallon Wide Mouth Mason Jars.
Pickling, Hydrated or Slaked Lime
This is a crucial ingredient for the waterglassing solution. While some folks go overboard trying to buy lime in bulk, often considering construction lime or massive 50lb bags, it’s essential to remember that you likely won’t need that much unless you’re preserving hundreds of eggs regularly. A one-pound bag of food-grade pickling lime can suffice for about eight of those gallon containers. I bought this value pack of six one-pound bags of Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime for a little over twenty bucks and still haven’t gone through a single bag yet. The convenience of resealable bags and avoiding dealing with a 50lb lime explosion in your kitchen make this option particularly appealing.
When selecting lime for waterglassing, it’s crucial to opt for pickling, slaked, or hydrated lime, and not garden lime. Garden lime primarily consists of calcium carbonate, whereas pickling lime contains calcium hydroxide. Given that hydroxide is more alkaline, pickling lime is the preferred choice for waterglassing.
To create your waterglassing solution, you’ll need unchlorinated water. Well-water or filtered water should work perfectly. If you don’t have access to unchlorinated water, a simple trick is to leave the tap water out in an uncovered container for 24 hours. Most of the chlorine should evaporate, leaving you with suitable water for the process.
Believe it or not, that’s all you need to get started with waterglassing eggs. It’s refreshingly straightforward, and you won’t need an arsenal of equipment or exotic ingredients. Keep it simple, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying fresh, preserved eggs year-round.
Collecting the Eggs
Your initial task in the waterglassing process revolves around egg selection. It’s paramount that the eggs chosen for waterglassing meet a couple specific criteria. First, they must be unwashed, with the bloom intact. The waterglassing solution helps to further seal the egg’s pores, working in concert with the bloom. But the bloom keeps that solution from soaking into the egg itself. Second, your eggs must be completely free of dirt, debris, or fecal matter. You see, these eggs will be soaking for extended periods, and the last thing you want is a batch marinating in an unsavory “poop soup.”
Now, if you’re in a situation like mine, with over 140 chickens keeping the egg cartons overflowing, you might have a surplus even after selling several flats a week. In that case, setting aside plenty of eggs for long-term storage is a breeze. However, if you have a smaller flock, simply dedicate a portion of your daily egg harvest to waterglassing. Aim to set aside 1-3 of the most pristine eggs each day until you accumulate enough to fill up your chosen container. The gallon-sized ones I use can hold between 30-40 eggs, depending on their size and how snugly they’re arranged within the container.
Can You Waterglass Store-Bought Eggs?
Unfortunately, no, you cannot waterglass store-bought eggs. Eggs from the grocery store undergo thorough cleaning and sanitization processes, removing the protective bloom. The lime solution used in waterglassing works in conjunction with the bloom to preserve eggs, so sanitized eggs won’t benefit from this method. If you want to extend the shelf life of store-bought eggs, consider alternative methods such as freezing.
What About Other Eggs?
The beauty of waterglassing lies in its versatility. It’s not limited to preserving chicken eggs alone. If you happen to have an abundance of quail eggs, duck eggs, turkey eggs, or guinea eggs, rest assured that waterglassing can work its magic on these as well.
The Waterglassing Process
The process of waterglassing is surprisingly simple. However, a few details will make the entire process go a lot smoother.
Prepare the Lime Solution
To start, you’ll need to mix up the lime solution. The ideal ratio is one ounce of lime per quart of water. From my experience, roughly two quarts of this solution should be sufficient to fully cover the eggs in the gallon containers.
Here’s a little tip: Aim to use water about 20 degrees warmer than room temperature. The slightly warm water encourages the eggs to expel potential contaminants instead of cold water, which might draw them in.
Load and Submerge the Eggs
Now, you have a choice in the order of things. Some folks prefer to fill the container with the lime solution before loading the eggs. But if you’re like me, you might find it more convenient to load the eggs first and then pour the solution over them.
While it’s more likely than not simply a case of personal preference, I like to think that pouring the solution over the eggs helps ensure better coverage. Plus, I like the snow-globe look it gives my stored eggs. It also eliminates the chance of overfilling. And, while I’m not sure it makes any real difference, I feel like it potentially eliminates the risk of additional contamination from repeatedly dipping your hands in the solution.
Conventional wisdom tells us to load the eggs with the pointy side down. This arrangement ensures the air pocket stays furthest away from the yolk, contributing to longer-lasting freshness. However, I’ve never been super conventional and tend to arrange my eggs Tetris-style to maximize space in the container.
If you opted to load the eggs first, it’s now time to pour the lime solution over them. Ensure that all the eggs are fully submerged. Then, seal the container tightly. After a few minutes, you’ll notice the solution beginning to settle. It becomes less cloudy, and the lime accumulates at the bottom. Don’t be alarmed; this is perfectly normal.
Important Note: Resist the urge to stir it back up as it will settle again, and agitating it increases the risk of cracking an egg. Trust me; you want to avoid having a cracked egg in there. Rotten egg water after about six months is not a pleasant experience, as I learned the hard way.
Don’t forget to label the date when you stored them. This helps you keep track of freshness. Store the container in a cool, dark place like a pantry where the temperature remains relatively stable, and you’ll have a supply of farm-fresh eggs for the next year or more, even during those lean egg-laying months.
What to Expect from Waterglassed Eggs
Now that you’ve mastered the art of waterglassing eggs, it’s essential to set some expectations when using these preserved beauties.
First and foremost, even though the eggs are, in the vast majority of cases, safe for consumption, well… sh*t happens. As a precaution, I always crack waterglassed eggs into a separate container before adding them to any recipe. This way, you’ll know immediately from the smell if anything went wrong during the preservation process.
Now, while many claim that waterglassed eggs are akin to fresh-laid ones, there are a few nuances to consider. There will likely be some subtle differences in their texture and consistency.
In general, waterglassed eggs tend to be slightly runnier in texture. It’s relatively rare for the yolk to maintain its shape, so don’t count on using them for picture-perfect over-easy eggs on toast. Hard-boiling waterglassed eggs is possible, but be prepared for a challenging peeling experience. Due to the sealed pores, these eggs can sometimes build up pressure and even explode during boiling. To prevent this, make sure to poke a pinhole in each egg before boiling.
However, waterglassed eggs perform wonderfully for various other uses when it comes to cooking. You can use them confidently in baking recipes and when preparing scrambled eggs, quiches, frittatas, and other dishes. The taste and texture of properly waterglassed eggs remain consistent with their fresh counterparts once cooked.
So, while you might encounter some subtle differences, rest assured that your waterglassed eggs will still elevate your culinary creations, allowing you to enjoy farm-fresh goodness year-round.
Give the waterglassing method a try for yourself and connect with our shared roots to preserve the goodness of farm-fresh eggs year-round. It’s a straightforward technique with impressive results, and I can’t wait to hear about your experience. Feel free to share your waterglassing adventures and any tips you discover in the comments below!