Cumberland Times-News

April 7, 2012

There are eggs, and there are Easter eggs

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Today, I want to talk about — eggs. Good subject for Easter, right? But have you ever wondered how eggs, well, happen? How do they form so perfectly, with the shell always on the outside and the stuff so flawlessly contained inside. No leaks, or otherwise flawed product that would be inevitable if it were done in a factory in Ypsilanti. Oh, yes, and does the inside of the egg come first or the outside?

The other day I looked out the window and saw this big beautiful robin about the shape of a small basketball. Healthiest-looking bird I’ve seen in years. Immediately I thought, “I bet she’s pregnant. Got all those eggs lined up to lay as soon as the nest is ready.” But I had never read or heard that birds get “pregnant.” Just that, when the time comes, so do the eggs.

I know you are both as curious as I am, so I had to look into it for us.

Right away, of course, I found out I was wrong. (Story of my life.) Birds never carry multiple eggs around inside of them until it’s time to lay, but only one at a time. (So I guess my robin had just overeaten that day. ) Otherwise, apparently they would not be able to fly. That figures — I am fairly sure my chances of being able to fly when I was pregnant were very limited, except by airplane.

On the other hand, I do remember as a child, when my mother would prepare a freshly killed chicken for the pot — sorry, chicken (I always apologize), there would sometimes be lots more than one unlaid egg inside. Maybe chickens are different from your usual songbird, but my online source of information does not deal with this problem.

Anyway, for your average flighted bird, once the egg forms after fertilization, the female must get rid of it immediately. (Know the feeling.) This may not be as hard as it sounds, because eggs are made for laying. Also they are “extremely robust.” Their oval shape uses the same rules of engineering as an arched bridge, and their convex surface discourages heavy pressure and breakage, luckily for the parents who are sitting on it. A swan’s egg can take 26 pounds of pressure and an ostrich egg takes 120 pounds of weight when properly distributed by the parents, who probably know more about this kind of thing than you or I might. This is remarkable when you come to think of it — I suspect if I had had to sit on eggs for two or three weeks for each of my offspring I might not have had three kids.

Now this still does not answer my initial curiosity about how the shell forms and so cleverly captures that unique recipe of yolk and white inside — but anyway it’s a little more than I knew before. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with it.

Because the egg brings new life into the world, it’s easy to see how it became connected to the celebration of Easter. No holiday is more associated with the promise of the future, of rebirth, and human faith in resurrection from death.

When I was a child, hardboiled eggs were the focus of activity on Easter. Once the eggs were successfully hardboiled (there was always some breakage, which makes you admire the senior birds even more), my mother colored them. (Do men ever color Easter eggs?) I remember she boiled some in onion skins which made a beautiful deep orange ) Then she and, I think, my father hid them all over the house, even in our slippers, which was sometimes a bit of a surprise.

Of course, since I had two older brothers, there was a high element of competition in our celebration. For a peaceable holiday, we had more wars going on than the Middle East. After the first orgy of discovery, we picked out our manliest eggs and fought battles, studying just the exact angles and degree of force necessary to crack the enemy egg before you got cracked. Naturally, my brothers always won in the long run, but I put up a good fight every time, if I say so myself.

Then followed a long week of egg-centered recipes. (Doesn’t seem right that so many “deviled” eggs have been made from “Easter” eggs down through history.)

Back during the Depression and then afterward during World War II, you didn’t waste anything. Luckily we all liked them, and even eating three or four eggs in one day (the losers) didn’t seem to put any of us out of commission. I don’t even want to think what might happen if I were to try that this Easter,

Nowadays my family loves to color them and hide them, but hates the taste of them. So I’ve saved the prettiest ones over the years, and in the refrigerator are about four dozen gorgeous eggs from the past. It’s a family thing, and you do wonder what will happen to them when you die.

We never had anything so sophisticated, and artificial, as public egg hunts or an Easter egg roll. (”Unrelated to eggroll” as Wiki responsibly points out. ) And I did not know till now that, in Christian countries, it was forbidden to eat eggs in Lent. This would have been hard to get across to the chickens, thereby producing a huge backlog, which may account for the whole egg emphasis all by itself.

What I know personally is that (along with the candy — don’t forget the candy!) eggs made our Easter meaningful as well as delicious.

Happy Easter to all — and to all a good night!

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.