Overcome by a great desire for soft-boiled eggs, I went out to buy an egg-cup or two.

Schematically, an egg-cup is like a wine glass, but it's smaller and more squat, and the "bowl" part at the top is just the right size to hold the lower third or so of a common hen's egg.

When you "soft-boil" an egg, you boil it until the "white" or albumen is congealed, but the yolk is still liquid. This takes just over three minutes. When you're done, you've got a tasty capsule of fats and proteins, but you can't just peel and eat it like a hard-boiled egg because the yolk will end up all over. This is where the egg-cup comes in: You set the egg in the cup and slice off the top third of an inch or so (of the egg, not the cup: ideally, the cup should remain intact and uneaten). Then you salt the bit of congealed albumen in the top, scoop it out with a spoon, and gobble it up. Next, add some salt and a little butter to the main body of the egg, scoop, gobble, salt, scoop, gobble, etc.

Clearly, only a fool would try to run a civilized country without egg-cups.

As it turns out, we in the USA are just such fools. Egg-cups are not so easy to find. Don't ask me why, but I started looking in Burlington, MA.

At Crate & Barrel, the nice young lady said, "you want . . . a what?"

"An egg-cup. For soft-boiled eggs."

She gave me a blank look and edged away. She thought I was insane. Maybe I should have shaved? In any event, she handed me off to an ebullent young man who must have been their troubleshooter. He'd just clocked out, but he knew what an egg-cup was and he understood the gravity of the situation.

He sighed. "We used to have some, but they were plastic. You wouldn't want one of those. They were nothing special."

Fuck special. I just wanna eat my damn eggs. "Any ideas?"

"Try Williams Sonoma."

So I thanked him and thought to myself, "'expensiver and expensiver', said Alice". Williams Sonoma didn't have them either, but at least the nice young lady knew what they were:

"We should have them, but we don't. You might try Macy's."

Okay. Macy's. Where the fuck is Macy's?

I found Macy's. At Macy's, I fell in with two nice middle-aged ladies who worked there, and they were cool: They were really into china. It's not often that I meet somebody like that. So I said "please" and "thank you" and "ma'am" and they thought I was just adorable, even if I did look a bit bedraggled.

The NMAL's held a long consultation, and they were grieved -- sorely grieved -- at the passing of the egg-cup from American life, and from virtually all American china patterns to boot. "People don't eat eggs any more. They're worried about cholesterol." They sadly shook their heads: Thus do great civilizations falter. They knew of only one "set" (was that the word?) that still came with an egg-cup, and they'd have had to special-order it.

Hm. Great. I'll pay some ungodly price for something with little blue flowers on it, and I won't even get my hands on the damn thing for six weeks. They sensed my despair, and suggested yet another store, something called "Kitchen Etc."

So there I went.

Kitchen Etc. turns out to be a monstrous emporium off in the corner of a parking lot across Route 128 from all the above. They've got kitchen stuff I don't even recognize: Aspic burnishers, tomato drills, specialized dishes for serving up devilled ocelots . . . It's huge.

Best of all, they've got a NMAL who's really into china, and who (like me) regards the desuetude of the egg-cup as a clear sign of a general reversion to barbarism and madness. I put myself in her hands, and by Christ she had egg-cups. They were little glass ones with narrow bases. She was sorry they didn't have a better selection, but hell, any egg-cup at all seemed almost miraculous at that point.

Now, if I were designing an egg-cup, I'd overengineer the bastard: The base would be three inches wide and weighted. I'd make an egg-cup you couldn't knock over with a sledgehammer. Lacking capital, however, I'll take what I can get. I bought two. They were reasonably priced.

Now I have egg-cups! Yay!

Barbarism is foiled again.

All this talk lately of Toast soldiers brings egg cups to mind. I can’t remember seeing an egg cup as a child.

We ate hard-boiled eggs, particularly in egg salad, but not soft-boiled eggs in the shell. Poached eggs were served on toast, a dish I avoided because of the hard white strands of albumen that were ever-present.

When I did start eating soft-boiled eggs it was in an environment where my eggs were removed from their shells before being served. Somewhere, however, I must have made the acquaintance of egg cups. I salute the man or woman who invented them as these little bits of tableware prevent burnt fingers as well as soiled table linens.

An egg cup is a small chalice with a very short stem. It can be made of any hard material although a non-conductive substance is best. Glass, china, wood, pottery and various metals are often used.

Silver egg cups are not a good idea as sulfur from the egg tarnishes this metal upon contact. I once had a pair of modern chrome egg cups shaped from coiled springs, but they were hard to clean if the yellow of the egg yolk oozed out of the shell and hardened in the coils.

I have a French set in royal blue glass depicting six roosters with outspread wings, each carrying a tall, narrow cup on his back. A bit silly, as I’ve never seen that particular national bird doing anything useful that he could crow about.

More often than not, egg cup design is rather whimsical. Those for children abound in bunny rabbits and Winnie the Pooh characters, sometimes with wee spoons whose handles are the same characters.

Tiny spoons are a good idea when using egg cups, regardless of the egg eater’s actual age. Demitasse coffee spoons are excellent. Even if most of the egg is eaten with soldiers, there is always a bit of egg white to be scraped out of the pointy end of the shell.

The demitasse cup itself is a useful substitute when no egg cup is available. A wooden napkin ring also serves the same purpose   :   to hold the egg upright and keep the yolk in the shell.

An egg cup generally is presented on a saucer. This is useful to hold the shell removed from the top of the egg. It also catches any bits of yolk that escape and run down the side of the cup. Sometimes the egg is covered with an egg cozy, a tiny blanket crocheted from heavy thread, which is intended to keep the bald shell warm.

There is a certain methodology in eating from an egg cup. Removing the top of the egg is the first step. One school of thought is to boldly slice off the top with a knife blade. This is fine, perhaps, if the egg is well-cooked. If the egg is very lightly boiled it is more prudent to tap the top end gently with the rounded bottom of a spoon. Then the bits of cracked shell can be prized off and deposited in the saucer.

Once the egg is opened, it is usually necessary to eat any bits of egg white protruding above what is remaining of the egg shell. This makes it all neat and tidy. Then the egg can be eaten from the shell, either with a spoon or with bits of bread or toast. Before doing this, salt and pepper can be added and, if desired, a sliver of butter inserted into the yolk where the heat of the cooked egg will melt it.

Egg"-cup` (?), n.

A cup used for holding an egg, at table.


© Webster 1913.

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