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Last week a colleague at work, who lives in one of the prettier areas of rural Virginia, brought a dozen duck eggs to work. She had purchased them from a local farmer. Several of us pounced on these exotic avian gifts, since most of us obtain eggs from the lowly chicken from local grocers. Curiosity prompted me to compare the duck eggs to the two varieties of chicken eggs in my refrigerator. I only purchase large brown organic, cage-free chicken eggs. In the U.S. egg categories do not necessarily hold true, however. Both the eggs in the center and to the left of center are sold as large eggs. The definition of large seems not to be standard. However, capitalism is alive and well in the Commonwealth.  A dozen eggs on the left sell for $3.99 USD for a dozen, whereas the middle eggs sells for $6.99 USD per carton.
egg sizes

The differences in their sizes are astounding. The duck egg on the right is huge by comparison.

3 eggs

The duck egg made me think of Jane Austen, her mother and her sister. We know that the three women struggled for a number of years after Reverend Austen’s death, moving from house to house, city to city, before settling in Chawton Cottage. As the rector’s wife in Steventon Cottage, during Jane’s childhood, she oversaw a poultry yard with ducks, turkeys, chicken, guinea fowls. The move from city life to Chawton Cottage provided the Austen women with access to a substantial garden once more.

chawton-cottage-garden

Image of the garden at Chawton Cottage by Tony Grant.

 

Studying my duck egg, I wondered how similar it was to the kind Mrs. Austen (or her maid of all work) would have gathered. Apparently, Aylesbury ducks were popular in the UK during the late 18th through 19th centuries. These free ranging ducks ate grubs and any protein of interest, giving their meat and eggs a unique, strong flavor.

_wikimedia

Aylesbury ducks figured prominently in Beatrix Potter drawings. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

My duck egg tasted delicious – not much different from my free-ranging chicken egg, except that one egg took the place of two! I looked at some of my favorite 18th century cookbooks to see how duck eggs were used in recipes. The recipe below is typical of the era, in that few or no measurements were provided. One could assume is that “egg” is the food that the cook happened to have on hand, be it pigeon, quail, grouse, chicken, or duck!! I have one duck egg left and intend to fry it as round as balls!

 

To fry Eggs as round as Balls.

Having a deep frying-pan, and three pints of clarified butter, heat it as hot as for frit­ters, and stir it with a stick, till it runs round like a whirlpool; then break an egg into the middle, and turn it round with your stick, till it be as hard a poached egg; the whirl­ing round of the butter will make it as round as a ball, then take it up with a slice, and put it in a dish before the fire; they will keep hot half an hour, and yet be soft; so you may do as many as you please. You may poach them in boiling water in the same manner.

The Frugal Housewife, Or, Experienced Cook: Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands with Cleanliness, Decency, and Elegance is Explained in Five Hundred Approved Receipts … p. 42, Susannah Carter January 1, 1822, University of Oxford, downloaded at: http://tei.it.ox.ac.uk/tcp/Texts-HTML/free/N09/N09703.html

 

More about ducks:

Ducks a Potted History: https://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/ducks-a-potted-history/

Soup Through the Ages: A Culinary History with Period Recipes, Victoria Rumble, foreword by Sandra Oliver, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2009, p. 61, https://goo.gl/QhfJ35

duck eggs from great british chefs

Duck egg recipes from Great British Chefs. Perhaps I should try boiled egg and soldiers!

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