Keep It Cool
Refrigeration is the simplest and most effective method of preserving eggs. Fresh, unwashed eggs placed immediately in a refrigerator will keep for about eight months and will make the best fried or boiled eggs, whipped whites, custards, and other dishes that are dependent on the egg’s texture and volume-producing ability. The key is to select freshly laid, unsoiled eggs to retain the “bloom.” This protective film coats the shell and keeps bacteria out of the delicate egg while slowing moisture loss to keep the egg fresh longer; if you wash a soiled egg, you’ll remove the bloom in the process.
I’ve also found that eggs laid during cooler months tend to store longest. Eggs laid in the heat of summer and left in the nest during the hottest part of the day often become runny or even rancid significantly faster than those laid under cooler conditions. If, however, your flock is small and you’re not able to collect enough eggs for winter storage before the heat sets in, that’s OK. Just collect eggs for long-term refrigeration several times daily when possible, to shorten the time they’re exposed to the heat, and immediately consume those you collected hours after they were laid.
Generally speaking, the only differences between a day-old egg and one that’s been chilling for about eight months are the thickness of the whites and the plumpness of the yolks. As an egg ages, its white naturally becomes thinner and runnier, while its yolk softens and will break more easily. This usually poses no trouble in recipes, other than a slightly wider base for fried eggs. And while it’s true that the freshest egg whites produce the best meringues, I’ve successfully made potluck-worthy meringue pies with 8-month-old eggs. They just needed a bit more whipping and a little extra cream of tartar. No one was any the wiser.
Ice, Ice, Baby
Before you call me a crazy chicken lady, I assure you that freezing both raw and cooked eggs works. Successful freezing requires experimentation with your own recipes and different freezing techniques, as well as a little understanding of what happens to a frozen egg.
Freezing a raw egg morphs the creamy golden yolk into a firm, gelatinous ball that will — alas — never be creamy again. This makes frozen egg yolks a bit of a problem in recipes that require a smooth, silky yolk, such as eggnog and banana pudding. Still, most cakes and cookies, many breads, and even casseroles that don’t depend on creamy yolks will turn out just fine, with only a few flecks of visible yolk in the finished product. Thoroughly mashing or blending the yolks will help eliminate these yellow specks too. If you’d rather fry a previously frozen egg, just remember that the yolk will resemble a hard-cooked egg yolk, while the whites will fry up like normal.
You can freeze whole eggs in the shell — what I call the busy homesteader’s saving grace. The shells will certainly burst, especially those of hours-old eggs that haven’t yet developed air pockets, so be sure to place the eggs in a bowl or tray to freeze. I prefer to freeze several eggs at a time in a bowl in my deep freezer; the bowl catches any whites that manage to escape before becoming eggsicles. Store frozen eggs in gallon freezer bags or glass containers.
Baked whole eggs can also be frozen and quickly reheated for breakfast on the go. Photo by Kristi Cook.
Alternatively, freeze whole, scrambled, or separated raw eggs in a lightly greased muffin tin or ice cube tray, and pop them out when frozen solid. Some folks recommend adding up to ¼ teaspoon of salt or up to 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey per cup of scrambled eggs to preserve the smooth texture. However, I often forget this step and haven’t noticed a significant difference. Scrambling raw eggs before freezing is a boon to making scrambled eggs and other dishes where little flecks of yolk are undesirable, while separating whites and yolks before freezing makes a quick meringue or German chocolate cake easier, as separating previously frozen eggs can be rather difficult.
You can also freeze cooked eggs. I like to scramble or bake a few dozen eggs ahead of time, and then freeze them in individual portions for times when I need a quick meal. These make the perfect breakfast sandwich on an extra busy morning. I’ve found that slightly undercooking scrambled eggs prior to freezing keeps them moister when reheated. Bake whole eggs in a lightly greased muffin tin at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 13 minutes; they’ll reheat nicely and curb the urge to stop for a fast-food egg biscuit. The biggest drawback to precooking eggs is that they start to lose flavor after about three months in a freezer, so consider this a short-term storage method.
For storing surplus eggs, you’ve likely heard of water-glassing (not the ones you drink from), salt or lard packing, and even pickling. All of these methods are worth exploring; I’ve had better success with some over others.
Water glass is made from sodium silicate, a natural mineral; 1 part sodium silicate mixed with 9 to 11 parts boiled and then cooled water makes a gel that will preserve raw eggs for several months. Layer fresh, raw eggs in a nonreactive container, cover them with water glass, and store them in a cool, dark location. Water-glassed eggs may be removed as needed and used in any recipe that calls for a fresh, raw egg.
While I like this method and know it works well, pure sodium silicate can cause chemical burns and other injuries. Because I have children in my home, I’ve stopped using it, but if you’re interested, this method is certainly worth trying. As an added bonus, water-glassing requires no refrigeration or electricity, making it the perfect solution for off-grid or grid-down situations.
Salt packing and lard packing seem to work well for some and not so well for others. I’ve had little success with either, as I’ve always ended up with rotten eggs within a month or two no matter what packing material I used. I’ve also tried simply wiping the shells down with lard or mineral oil, with even poorer results. As for liming eggs, my family has always poked a small hole in the shells before submerging eggs in a lime and water solution (1 pound lime to 1 gallon boiling water, cooled). I’ve always been frustrated by how often I end up breaking the eggs when I try, so I can’t vouch for liming’s efficacy.
While pickling isn’t suitable for raw eggs, pickling hard-boiled eggs is an excellent and safe way to store eggs for a limited time. Like the process for making cucumber pickles, fully cooked eggs are preserved in a solution of white or apple cider vinegar, herbs, and vegetables, often including mustard seed, dill, pickling spice, peppers, and beets. The eggs and pickling solution are then stored in a refrigerator for several weeks to allow the eggs to take on the flavor of the solution.
The biggest drawbacks to pickling are the limited uses for pickled eggs and their relatively short shelf life. Pickled eggs are good eaten plain, in egg salad, on a sandwich or burger, or chopped into a dinner salad or other dish. As for storage during leaner winter months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends pickled eggs be stored for a maximum of four months in a refrigerator, to avoid the risk of spoilage. But, if you like pickled eggs and will eat them in the recommended timespan, this is definitely another good way to store surplus eggs for winter consumption.
No matter how small your flock or how big your family’s egg needs, preserving your surplus eggs for winter use is the perfect solution for the seasonal egg-laying cycles most hens exhibit. Whether you prefer refrigeration, freezing, water-glassing, or other methods is entirely up to your taste; all preservation methods are quite simple to master. So, the next time your fridge is overflowing with eggs, set some aside just like you do extra tomatoes and squash, and know that winter is taken care of.
Need ideas for using your preserved eggs? Try these del-egg-table delights!