Preserving eggs
Callington Heritage Centre

By: Callington Heritage Centre
Added: 15 October 2017

Freezers and refrigerators were not common until after WWII. Food preservation was very different. The following article tells of preserving eggs. I can remember eggs stored in isinglas in a large earthenware crock, at home, in the early 1950s. Eggs preserved in isinglas, also known as "varnished eggs" could be bought in Callington Co-op as late as 1960. :-

From "Looking Back at Ough's" by Mr Norman Ough, is the following exerpt "we preserved eggs in waterglass using large (40 gallon) barrels which were half filled with the waterglass solution. The fresh eggs were then put into the barrel and gently floated to the bottom without cracking. We could tip a bucket full in at a time. They were kept in the cool cellar until needed for the Christmas cooking...... Any that had been cracked when filling the barrels their yolks had solidified. To test we held each one up to the light..."

A copy of a label tells that Ough's supplied waterglass (isinglas) in tins. 2lb of isinglas in 1 gallon of water (10% solution) would preserve about 200 eggs. It further stated that wooden, earthenware or galvanised iron vessels were suitable for this use, but not iron.

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Preserving Eggs

There are several techniques for preserving whole shell eggs, raw and uncooked, without refrigeration.

You can coat the egg shells with a substance that prevents air from getting into the egg. Traditionally, fats such as lard or butter were used. You'd put some lard or butter on paper and then use that to wipe the fat over them.

Use of Isinglass

In more recent historic times, you could also use liquid paraffin or liquid Isinglass, rubbing the liquid over them. In fact, you could buy shell eggs dipped in Isinglass in Britain right up until the early 1960s. It puts a sort of varnish shine on the eggs.

In the first half of the 1900s, people at home would preserve many eggs in a bucket or crock filled with liquid Isinglass, and the technique is still viable. Isinglass is bacteria-resistant, and helps prevent organisms from entering the eggs, as well as helping prevent evaporation of the water content of the eggs.

If the eggs are from a farmer or backyard (i.e. not commercially cleaned), wipe them with a damp cloth (don't wash.) Use only eggs with no surface cracks.

Mix the Isinglass into water, heat, and let cool, at which point it will form a sort of white jelly substance.

Arrange the raw shell eggs in the crock, point down. Pour the cooled Isinglass mixture over them to cover completely, then cover the crock to keep dirt, bugs, mice, etc out of it.

Keep the eggs submerged in the Isinglass completely until you take them out for use, and keep the crock in a cool place: this technique does not work well in warm places.

Eggs stored this way will keep for 6 months to a year.

They should be used as an ingredient in something, such as baking, rather than as say a boiled or fried egg on their own, as they will have a slight chalky taste. The shells get fragile, so you wouldn't want to use as a boiled egg, anyway, as the shells will crack. At around the six month point, the whites will get too thin for whipping.

When you use them, smell to see if any have gone off, and crack them one at a time into a saucer to inspect before adding to other cracked eggs or a recipe's ingredients. The ones that went off may have had undetectable fine cracks in the shell.

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