Brian KallerNo matter what else you have in your kitchen, you probably have eggs. Whether you boil or fry them for breakfast, brush them over meat, whisk them into egg-drop soup, or bake them into pastries, eggs are one of the simplest and yet most versatile of foods, prized the world over as a rich source of protein.

If you raise your own chickens, moreover, you have a ready supply of eggs — as well as fertilizer and comic relief. Hens also convert your leftovers into your next breakfast, keep your garden free of pests, and mow your lawn for free. Other animals can do some of these things, but not many of us have the time, space, or will to manage a suburban herd of sheep or swine, or to slaughter them. Hens, however, require little space or maintenance, and they turn any home into a homestead.

Hens, however, lay eggs seasonally, speeding up in summer and slowing or stopping in winter. You could give them more indoor light or Vitamin D supplements to increase their egg production in colder months, but they cost money and interfere with the chickens’ natural cycle — saving money and being all-natural are two of the most popular reasons for keeping backyard chickens in the first place. 

Another way would be to collect the extra eggs in the summer and preserve them through the winter; one method — well-known to pub patrons here in Ireland — is to pickle them. A typical recipe involves hard-boiling eggs and removing the shells, then creating a pickling solution of cider vinegar, small amounts of salt, sugar, herbs, and spices. Bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer for five minutes and pour it over the eggs. They should keep for at least a few months.

You can also soak the eggs in a solution of sodium silicate, known as "isinglass" or "water-glass." One popular recipe from a century ago recommends dissolving sodium silicate in boiling water, making it about the consistency of syrup (or 1 part silicate to 3 parts water). The eggs — as fresh as possible, and thoroughly clean — should be immersed in the solution in such a manner that every part of each egg is covered with the liquid. Then remove the eggs and let them dry. If the solution is kept near the boiling temperature, the preservative effect is said to be much more certain and to last longer.

Perhaps the best and longest-lasting way, however, is to preserve eggs in limewater. No recipe could be simpler: take fresh, raw eggs in the shell, set them gently in a jar, and pour in a simple, lukewarm mix of tap water and lime powder. I’ve done this with our eggs, and they've lasted for up to a year and remained edible.

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