Over the holidays (they’re not done yet for me) I’ve traded in my computer for my kitchen. Apologies to those of you who live on a stable diet of what I write here–I’ve been feeding others. Cooking as much as I have, I’ve had to restock many ingredients in our pantry and fridge, including dozens of eggs. As a result I’ve been thinking about eggs.
If you were to peek inside my fridge right now, you’d see two cartons of eggs, one white and the other brown. This arrangement is not significant, and at other times it will be all white or all brown. However, what is important is that it varies.
In the North American, industrialized kitchen, it is typical to find white eggs. That’s what egg producers here turn out. I mention this partly because not all of my readers are in North America, and also to properly setup the context for the following anecdote.
The current carton of brown eggs in our fridge is there for the same reason that all brown eggs end up there: my eldest daughter asked for them. Often when I take her to the store with me, and we are buying eggs, she looks at the endless stacks of white, and the single row of brown, and then up at me with eyes as brown and round as these eggs, “Can we please?” Of course we can, and we do.
I asked her today why she likes brown eggs. If I’m truthful I’ll admit that I would never buy them. I want what’s inside the shell, and white or brown, the stuff inside is identical. Despite the gastronomic purple prose you’ll encounter in thick cookbooks, the colour of the egg is meaningless. It indicates the species of the hen, nothing more. And yet there, at the store, two dramatically different eggs present themselves.
“I sometimes like a change,” she told me. These little girls have many similar lessons for me about how to be in the world, and I try to listen. The brown eggs vs. eggs (I don’t even need to modify it with “white,” which is the point) issue I’m describing is never about the egg as binding ingredient, emulsifier, thickener, glaze, etc. Rather, it draws attention to the preparation of food, to the ingredient list, and to cooking instead of eating. “Cooks favour brown eggs,” is another way of saying that cooks, at least those who have chosen to pause over their ingredients and processes, are engaged with something other than the end product of their efforts.
The preparation of food, and with it the opportunity provided by ingredients, is an important aspect of the philosophy of the table, which is very dear to me. With my family, and in particular with these little girls who see brown eggs as an opportunity for something new, I cook as a way to centre our existence around the table and within the kitchen. Brown eggs, like so many other examples I could list, are not essential. Instead, they represent a choice to move away from the colourlessness of everyday food. They reimagine food as the experience it was meant to be, and provide a ready path. Food was meant to be well prepared, shared, and eaten.