Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Egg reverence

Are you up to your floppy ears in eggs? We all are and it is a good thing. Eggs have been revered and consumed by man since the dawn of history.

At Springtide many cultures throughout the world have indulged in painting, colouring, decorating and consuming eggs in celebration of the various spring feasts.

Although mostly associated with Easter, the practice of decorating eggshells well predates Christianity and is unrelated to it.  A 60,000 year-old Ostrich egg with engraved decorations has been found in Africa. Decorated ostrich eggs in gold and silver were similarly placed in graves in ancient Egypt as early as 5000 years ago.

Because eggs embody the essence of life, they have been surrounded with magical beliefs from ancient through modern times, endowing them with power not only to create life but to prophecy it. They represent life in the various stages of development, encompassing the mystery and magic of creation.

Early mythmakers viewed both the sun and the egg as a source of all life. Why even pop-singer Lady Gaga seized the concept, by inhabiting a huge glass egg for 72 hours before a performance… to what purpose is heretofore unknown.  And so the magic and the mystery of the egg, continues!

While chicken eggs are the most popular, producing 62.1 million metric tons of eggs from 64 million hens worldwide, according to a 2009 US study, all sorts of eggs are consumed by man --- duck eggs, goose eggs, turkey, pigeons, partridges, turtle, ostrich, peacocks, quail and eggs of other bird species. Many of them are considered a rare delicacy. In legends even fairies consumed eggs of mythical birds, such as the phoenix.

Why have we always consumed eggs?  Some sought to absorb their magical properties, others to ensure fertility.  Farmers in Slavonic and Germanic countries smeared the hoe with eggs to transfer their fertility to the soil.

In 17th  century France a bride broke an egg before entering her new home. In Iran, the bride and groom exchanged eggs. Their ancestors the Persians believed that the earth had hatched from a giant egg. The Hindu description sees the world beginning as a cosmic egg. In other religions the egg was equated with the sun, the yolk a mixture of earth and water.

The perception of fertility and embodiment of life-force compelled certain cultures to avoid destroying eggs at all cost.  So extreme was their reverence, they forbade the eating of eggs because they were used for divining purposes. The egg which represents life can reveal your future… It has been a popular practice in Southern Asia, especially in China, where chicken or duck eggs are painted, boiled and the patterns in the cracks foretell the future.

The concept of eggs as life symbols went hand in hand with the concept of eggs as emblems of immortality and particularly the resurrection of Christ who rose from a sealed tomb, just as a bird breaks through an eggshell. Though dormant, the egg contains new life sealed within.

Jews traditionally serve eggs at Passover. An ancient tradition dearly adhered to in Egypt is the decorating  and colouring of eggs for ‘Sham Al-Nessim’, a Spring feast which falls the day after Eastern Easter.

Central Europe takes the prize for the variety, intricacy and artistry of Easter dyed eggs.  A ‘Pyanski’ museum holding the most precious creations is shaped as a huge egg in Kolomyia, Ukraine.  A pyanska is a Ukrainian egg decorated by using was-resist (batik), a method used in many Central European countries Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Rumania, Ukraine and Russia. 

The most valuable eggs were hand-crafted  in Russia by Peter Carl Faberge, now housed in museums and private collections. These treasures are valued at over $50 million.

Chocolate and candy eggs are a recent fad… but happily we have retained the joy of the coloured Easter egg.

We have eaten eggs since the beginning of time. Spring is boom time for the egg market. In UK alone, 80 million eggs are sold at Eastertide.

Since the domestication of the jungle fowl in 3200 BC, the hen has provided us with most of our eggs, but there is evidence of egg-laying going back to the Neolithic age.

Rome discovered eggs only in England, Gaul and Germany, but they did not reach the US until 1493, on Columbus’ second voyage.

If scientists have scared you away from consuming this diverse, nutritious, delectable food, take heart! Recent studies prove that if you are healthy, 1-3 eggs daily will do you no harm. Eggs raise the good cholesterol, (HDL) which we need, and usually does not change the (LDL). A mild rise of benign subtype of LDL is no cause for concern unless you suffer from heart disease.

Harold McGee, among other scientists, believes that it is saturated fat that is likely to raise your cholesterol levels more than the actual consumption of cholesterol.  The more we eat cholesterol, the less the body produces it.   

We need cholesterol, we make cholesterol; it is an important structural molecule, an essential part of every single membrane. Without cholesterol we would not even exist.

We also need the high protein, riboflavin, thiamine, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, fat, selenium, anti-oxidant, lutein, zeaxanthin, carbohydrates, Vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, D, E, K. If ther is a perfect food, it is the egg.

So, enjoy and welcome this new season of  life with the magical egg!

 “It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs”

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

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