Time to peel out!

No, not this kind of peeling out (sure is a nice Impala though) –

We mean the hard-boiled Easter egg kind! But why do some eggs peel perfectly and others end up looking like the Death Star after the Alliance had their way with it?


It turns out the very fresh eggs, like the kind we ‘grow’ at Seven Trees, are not the best for boiling.

There are two reasons why this may be – air space and pH level.

We think of eggs as shell, white & yolk, but they are a little more complicated than that. This illustration is from the USDA Handbook No. 75, July, 1961.

When eggs are just-laid, there is no air space between the inner and outer membranes. As an egg ages, it loses some carbon dioxide through tiny pores in the shell, making the egg white more basic (as in having a relatively low pH level). At the same time, it loses moisture, which increases the size of the “air cell” at the bottom of the shell, between the inner and outer membranes. (When the egg is boiled it solidifies around the air cell, making the distinctive ‘Death Star’ shape.) When cooked, these fresh egg whites bond more strongly to the inner shell membrane than it does to itself. As an egg sits in refrigeration for several days, the pH of the white albumen increases, as does the air space between membranes, and the hard cooked eggs become much easier to peel.

Factory farmed eggs can take more than a week to go from hen to store, and then they can sit on the shelf for quite a while before reaching their pull date. This storability factor can be a good thing when you know where the eggs came from, but a little unsettling once you see an industrial laying operation.

Some ‘eggsperts’ say one way to deal with the pH issue in fresh eggs is to add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the cooking water and boil them a bit longer. This might also make them taste more sulfuric. We haven’t tried this method for ourselves though. We try to plan ahead for hard boiled eggs, setting some aside for at least a week, and preferably two, before boiling. The eggs are placed in a pan of cool water, covered at least an inch, and with plenty of room to move around. Bring to a boil on high, and once things are really rolling turn off the heat, put the lid on, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Then plunk the eggs into ice water and leave them until cool. The temperature differential between boiling and icy causes the membranes to expand and contract, hopefully separating the shell from the membrane, making it easier to peel. This works pretty well if the eggs are at least a week old.

Some people say that adding salt to the water makes them easier to peel, but what this really does is coagulate any whites leaking out of a cracked shell.

In any case, if you buy eggs from Seven Trees Farm, or any reputable local farmer, you’ll need to set them aside right about now if you want easy-to-peel hard boiled eggs by Easter. Here are some ideas for natural egg dyes using ingredients you might have around the house. Marbled (or tea-dyed) eggs are also pretty.

At Seven Trees Farm we’re always working to make sure our hens (and other critters) have healthy, busy lives. We’ve applied for a grant to help us manage rotational grazing for our flock, which will hopefully allow us to expand a little while providing better living conditions for our flock. We’re looking forward to better weather so we can continue Kate’s work horse training so she can help us grow more of our own hen food, and we’re sure looking forward to the end of ‘mud season’!


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