It’s the question I get asked all the time when someone else is cooking at home. Fortunately, we can know what to do because two grandes dames of cooking have told us in their instruction manuals, both published in 1861:
- The Housekeepers Encyclopedia of Useful Information for the Housekeeper in All Branches of Cooking and Domestic Economy (Mrs EF Haskell, US, pages 219-200)
- Beeton’s Book of Household Management (Mrs Beeton, UK, paragraph 1654).
Both ladies tell us there ‘are several ways of determining whether or not eggs are fresh’. Some of these won’t work in these days of battery hens, refrigeration and supermarkets; but if you have chooks, you could perhaps try some of the more obscure tests with very fresh (and washed!) eggs and let us know how you went?
The swim test
This is Mrs Haskell’s suggestion and the one we use in our house. Mrs Beeton doesn’t mention it:
If eggs swim, they are bad; if they rise nearly to the top, not fresh; if they sink, they are newly laid.
What? Eggs swimming? Here’s what she means:
It’s the egg on the right that you should avoid.
You can use the egg on the left for ‘the table’. The egg in the middle is better for beating. The egg on the right should probably be donated to your compost or rubbish bin. If in doubt, crack the egg into a separate bowl before you add it to your mix.
The temperature test (eewww)
You can either:
… apply the tongue to the large end of the egg, and, if it feels warm, it is news, and may be relied on as a fresh egg. (Mrs Beeton)
If both ends of the egg, when put to the mouth, are of the same temperature, they are bad; but if a perceptible difference in the heat is perceived, they may be depended upon as good eggs. (Mrs Haskell)
Modern refrigeration means that we really can’t use the temperature test any more: if your fridge is working, then you’ll find the egg is the same temperature on both ends. I’m not sure this would work on anything but very fresh eggs, and then I am not so sure I would want to try it. My grandmother certainly never did.
Mrs Haskell’s shake test
As the heading suggests, only Mrs Haskell suggests shaking your eggs to see if they are fresh. If they shake like water, they are not fresh. The only time I have ever had this happen, the egg was so bad it was putrid. That is the egg that taught me about rotten eggs. I suspect this test really isn’t very sensitive.
The light test
Both ladies agree: the best way is to hold the eggs up to the light as described by Mrs Haskell:
Cover the sides with the hand, and look through the small end towards the light.[Mrs Beeton helpfully suggests a lighted candle]. If the egg is entirely fresh, it will be translucent [or clear], showing the color of the yolk through the white, giving the whole a reddish tinge. As soon as an egg commences to change, the color changes and, and one spoiled will give a dark appearance. With a little practice, a dealer can select quantities in a short time with hardly a mistake. This is perhaps one of the very best tests known by which to determine the freshness of eggs.
Travel back without travelling through time
So there you have it. Go back 150 years to discover that the way we test eggs has been around for a long time. All you need is a good household management book: no time machine required.