Beginner's Guide to Collecting Eggs: Tips and Knowledge
Authored by Gail Damerow
Authored by Gail Damerow
Eggs are an extremely versatile food that may be served for any meal as the main dish, as a side dish, or in a tasty dessert. Properly collecting and storing those delicious homegrown eggs will preserve their freshness for future use in a vast variety of culinary dishes.
Fresh eggs gathered from the nest should be clean and not cracked. Eggs are clean when laid. If nests are properly designed and managed, eggs should be clean when you collect them. A slightly dirty egg may be brushed off or rubbed with a sanding sponge or nylon scouring pad.
Washing eggs is not a good idea, because the water rinses off the natural bloom that helps preserve an egg’s freshness. Really soiled eggs should therefore be discarded.
Eggs may crack in the nest for a number of reason. The shell may be thinner than normal and therefore crack more easily. Providing a free-choice calcium supplement should solve that problem. An egg may cracked in the nest if too many hens try to lay in the same nest, which means not enough nests have been provided for the number of chickens in the flock. An egg left in the nest during cold weather could freeze and crack the shell. The solution is to collect eggs more often during cold weather.
An egg with a cracked shell is safe to eat, provided the membrane is intact, the egg is refrigerated promptly, and it is used right away. If the egg leaks, indicating the membrane is also broken, discard it.
An egg has both exterior and interior qualities. Exterior quality refers to the shell’s appearance, cleanliness, and strength. Appearance is important because the shell is the first thing you notice about an egg, so it should be appetizing. Cleanliness is important because the shell is the egg’s first defense against bacterial contamination. The cleaner the shell, the easier it can do its job. Strength influences the egg’s ability to remain intact until you’re ready to use it.
Interior quality refers to the appearance and consistency of an egg’s contents, which you can examine by breaking the egg into a dish. The albumen (egg white) of a fresh egg contains carbon dioxide that makes it look cloudy. As the egg ages, the gas escapes and the albumen becomes clear or transparent.
A fresh egg’s albumen is firm and holds the yolk up high. As an egg ages, the albumen becomes watery and spreads out thinly around the yolk. Over time, water migrates from the albumen to the yolk, stretching and weakening the yolk membrane.
The older the egg, therefore, the greater the likelihood that its yolk will break when you crack the egg into a cup. Even the freshest egg occasionally has a watery white or an easily broken yolk. But if the egg has a mottled yolk or otherwise doesn’t look or smell right to you, discard it.
Egg white is actually several layers of albumen, some thicker than others. One of the thick layers is the chalaziferous layer, consisting of dense albumen surrounding the yolk.
During an egg’s formation inside the hen, the egg rotates, causing the ends of the chalziferous layer to get twisted together to form cords, or chalazae, on opposite sides of the yolk. These two cords anchor the chalaziferous layer and protect the yolk by centering it within the white.
When you break an egg into a dish, the chalazae snap away from the shell membrane and recoil against the yolk. Misinformed cooks sometimes mistake the resulting white blobs near the yolk for the beginnings of a developing chick. But chalazae are simply a normal part of the miraculous process of an egg’s development inside a hen.
Dark spots inside an egg could be either blood spots or meat spots. Blood spots occur at the beginning of an egg’s formation, when a small blood vessel ruptures and a bit of blood releases along with the yolk.
Each developing yolk in a hen’s ovary is inside a sac containing blood vessels that supply nutrients for the yolk to grow. A mature yolk normally releases from the only area of the yolk sac that’s free of blood vessels.
If a yolk sac happens to rupture at some other point, tiny vessels break and blood appears on the yolk or in the white. As the egg ages, the blood spot becomes paler. So a bright blood spot is a sign that the egg is fresh. Blood spots appear in less than 1 percent of all eggs laid.
Meat spots are even less common than blood spots. They appear as brown, reddish brown, tan, gray, or white spots in an egg, usually on or near the yolk. The spot may have started out as a blood spot that changed color due to a chemical reaction, or it may be a bit of reproductive tissue. Blood spots and meat spots may look unappetizing, but the egg is perfectly safe to eat.
All species of female poultry lay eggs. And all their eggs are good to eat. Although chicken eggs are the most familiar type, some people prefer turkey eggs, duck eggs, or even goose eggs. Some people can detect differences in flavor, others find they all taste alike. For practical purposes the main difference is the egg’s size.
Eggs of different sizes may need different size storage cartons. Small bantam eggs in a large-egg carton, for instance, may be difficult to retrieve. Really large eggs, like those of a turkey or goose, typically won’t fit into a carton designed for chicken eggs.
Store eggs in clean cartons. Enclosed cartons keep eggs fresh longer than those with part of the top cut away to make the eggs more readily visible.
Orient eggs with their pointed end downward to keep the yolks nicely centered. Refrigerate eggs as soon as possible if you plan to sell them for eating, or you plan to keep them a while before using them. Fresh, clean, whole eggs will safely keep under refrigeration for a good three months.
An egg in the refrigerator needs to stay there until you’re ready to use it. A cold egg left at room temperature sweats, encouraging the growth of bacteria. Never leave a refrigerated egg out on the counter for more than two hours.
On the other hand, you can store clean, fresh-from-the-nest eggs at room temperature, if you plan use them within a few days. Keep in mind, though, that at room temperature an egg ages as much in a day as a refrigerated egg ages in an entire week.
Gail Damerow has written many books about chickens. Those available at Tractor Supply include The Chicken Encylopedia, The Chicken Health Handbook, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, and more. Visit Gail’s blog at gaildamerow.com.