Man's relationship with the egg goes back to the dawn of history, when hunters, the earliest oviraptors, would rob bird's eggs from their nests, cracking the shells and eating them raw. It wasn't until 600 B.C. that the first chickens were domesticated, but by then, the egg had already become a major source of protein for the world's civilizations. The omelette is already known from the Roman world and the writings of Apicius, made with milk and sprinkled with pepper and honey. By the time of the French revolution, roughly 685 different recipes were known for preparing eggs. Today, there are over 240 million hens, of some 200 different breeds, in America alone, laying roughly 50 billion eggs per year.
As a general principle, it is no surprise that an item so important to the staple diet would be incorporated into a people's mythology. Egyptian and Canaanite myths include complex cosmogenies in which the universe was sprung from an egg; in the Canaanite, the heavens and earth and all living things were formed when the great cosmic egg, Mot, was cracked open. In the ancient Pelasgian myths, the great mother Euronyme mated with Ophion in the form of a dove, and layed the universal egg from which all things then sprang. Later, in pagan Germanic ritual, an egg was cracked open in the festivals of spring to symbolize rebirth and the cycle of creation. This became easily incorporated into the Christian symbolism of Christ's rebirth and resurrection, the history of the modern Easter Egg.
Of course, many animals lay eggs, including reptiles, fish, and the occasional platypus. Lest we lose all focus, however, let us concentrate on the eggs of fowl. The egg is composed of 8 different parts:
- Shell: a hard protective layer composed mostly of calcium carbonate, formed within the chicken to encase the embryo. A single shell may contain as many as 17,000 tiny pores, designed to allow certain gases to pass freely, that the embryo can "breathe". This is also the unfortunate mechanism by which certain bacteria infect the egg, usually because of unsanitary handling procedures. An egg's thickness and size vary widely by breed and species. Turtle shells and shark eggs, for example, have thick, leathery casings. The colour of a chicken egg depends on the colour of the chicken's earlobes; white eggs are laid by chickens with white earlobes, brown eggs by chickens with red earlobes.
- Air Cell: a pocket of air formed on the thick end of the egg after it is layed, due to the sudden drop in temperature. The air cell increases in size the older an egg is; this is the reason old eggs, when placed in water, stand straight up or float.
- Shell Membranes: a thin double membrane designed to prevent bacterial infection. The air cell forms between the two.
- Thin Albumen: one of the surest indicators of a high-quality egg. This is the thin layer of albumen which is closest to the shell and shell membrane.
- Thick Albumen: a thicker albumen, containing most of the protein and riboflavin in the egg. In low quality eggs, it tends to spread and mix with the thin albumen.
- Yolk: the golden treasure, the best part of the egg! This is the embryo, which, if fertilized and properly incubated, will develop into a hatchling. The richness of the yellow depends on the quality and type of feed. Almost all the egg's vitamins, minerals, and fat are contained in the yolk.
- Vitelline: a thin membrane separating the yolk from the albumen.
- Chalazae: a thin, twisted, white strand which acts as a shock absorber, keeping the yolk in place in the center of the egg.
Of course, this is all pretty academic; why do we love eggs? Because they taste good, you ninny! Eggs are the jacks-of-all-trades of the culinary world; a simple egg, both the yolk and the egg white, can be used as the base for sauces and meringues, as a thickener, emulsifier, glaze, and countless other things. From the simple hard-boiled egg to the most magnificent Spanish Omelette, a few of the many uses of eggs culled from the nodegel:
A Good Egg | Ant Egg | Avgolemono (Egg Lemon Soup) | Bacon and Egg Sandwich | Bacon and Egg Toasted Sandwich | Baked Eggs with Ham and Sherry | blown egg | breakfast sandwich | brown eggs | Cascarones | Chau Ahn Huang: Stir-Fried Egg Yolks | Chau Yep Ahn: Tea Eggs | chicken omelet | Coddled Eggs, Crumpets and Blackened Tomatoes | cooking eggs, chicken and pork | Crisp-cased Egg Tarts (Yaknow, DMan's recipes were actually pretty good) | deep fried eggs mousseline | deviled eggs | Easter egg | Easy skillet frittata | Egg (you are here) | egg burrito | Egg Drop (blasphemous) | Egg Drop Soup | Egg Flower Soup | egg foo yung | egg generation | egg in a microwave oven | egg in the hole | egg mayo | egg mcmuffin | egg nebula | egg sandwich | Egg Toastie | Egg Tofu | Egg Tree | Eggs Benedict | Eggs and tomatoes | Eggy Bread | Faberge Egg | fresh eggs | fried bread and eggs | fried egg sandwich | fried eggs | frittata | Green Eggs | Green Eggs and Ham | hard boiled egg | Hot Tomato Soup With An Egg Sandwich | How to Crack an Egg with one Hand | how to find out if an egg has gone bad, or How to tell if an egg is rotten | How to make an Omelette | How to separate eggs | I love eggs | Jing don: steamed eggs | leek and sweetcorn frittata | Morel omelet | My Omelette | Okonomiyaki (Japanese Omelette) | omelet | omelette | Ovum | Palm sugar and coriander omelette | pickled eggs | pint of stout with an egg in it | poached eggs | rotten eggs | Scotch Egg: or, How to Enjoy Life | Scottish Egg on a Stick | Scrambled Eggs, a.k.a. Eggs Dinah | Scrabbed eggs (recipe from Webster. Who knew?) | Scrambled eggs and onion on toast with garlic mushrooms | Scrambled eggs super! | Scrambled Eggs a la Sellafield | Shallow-fried Pancake Rolls with Eggs | Skillet eggs with andouille (wish I could find Andouille sausage somewhere) | soft boiled egg | spaghetti omelette | Spanish Omelette (or, properly, Tortilla, Tortilla Española, ktl.) | Stracciatella alla Romana | Stracciatella (herb and egg soup) | suck eggs | sunny side up | sunshine egg | teach your grandmother how to suck eggs | the egg council | THE Egg Salad Sandwich | The history of easter eggs | Thousand year eggs | Through the Looking Glass - Chapter 6 | Tomato and Onion Omelette with Smoked Duck and Truffles | tuna and egg salad | Vegetarian Eggs | western eggs
Have I perhaps forgotten something? Did I overlook your beautifully and lovingly written egg node? Please /msg me, and I'll add it to the list.