How to eat eggs, according to grandma August 3, 2012
Eggs with soft yolks, served with toast. This is my favorite way to eat eggs, mostly because of my grandma, I think. Every morning, she had an easy poached egg and toast for breakfast, and I will forever associate eggs and toast with her. Somehow this simple meal is as elegant as she was, at least in my mind!
When I was little and was at her house in the morning, I got to eat eggs and toast, too. It was much better than the cereal I ate at home. It seemed so fancy. She cooked with a special egg timer. I also looked forward to getting the milk from the front porch on days it was delivered.
Wow– that makes me sound so old, doesn’t it? But it’s true: not so awfully long ago, she had a milk man. There was a metal box on the porch where milk was dropped off in a glass jug, first thing in the morning. Grandma would entrust me with fetching the milk and bringing it to the kitchen while she started the coffee. The house was quiet, with just the sounds of the coffee perking and the toaster running while the clock on the mantel sounded the Winchester chimes every fifteen minutes. In the summer, windows might be open, and we could hear the cooing of pigeons and songs of robins and cardinals.
With the milk safely in the fridge and the coffee on its way, she’d cook up the eggs in a special little poacher and make the toast, cut it into triangles. When I was little, she’d get out the booster seat so I could reach the table top more easily… and we’d eat. She’d tell me about her mom. “She loved coffee,” grandma told me. “I got my love of coffee from her.”
I remember also that grandma showed me the etiquette of egg eating. The technique was to dip a piece of toast in the yolk, one piece at a time. Grandma explained that in polite company, etiquette dictated that you should tear off a piece of toast, place it on your plate and then dip it into your yolk with a fork.
One. Piece. At. A. Time.
Do not dip your whole slice into the yolk, I learned. Do not cut your toast with a utensil. Grandma explained that properly, bread should be torn by hand. And one should only tear one piece at a time, the same way a roll should be torn into bite size pieces to be buttered. Tear, butter, eat, then tear another piece. With toast and yolk, tear, sop in yolk, eat, then tear again. Do not tear your whole piece of toast into pieces and drop them onto your egg, Lissa. Do not butter a whole piece of bread. Not in polite company, anyway, she said, leaning forward to get a hold of the salt shaker.
“Excuse my boarding house reach,” she’d laugh. “Reaching is something you can do at the kitchen table with family. In company, you demonstrate good breeding by asking for something out of your reach to be handed to you.”
The funny thing is that she really wasn’t much one for being overly concerned with etiquette, and was a very down to earth person. She never chided me for having elbows on the table or that sort of thing. “But you should know what to do when you need to impress,” she said breezily.
“Grandma,” I asked, “WHY is it proper etiquette to eat like that? It’s faster my way,” I said, referring to just taking a bite of the toast slice rather than tearing little pieces off.
She explained, “Well, eating is not a race. You’re not trying to be fast. If you’re with someone you want to impress, you don’t want to rush through the meal. You want to linger and talk.”
She explained that when you tear the toast, you can manage the size of the bite, better. Small bites are best because if it comes for your turn to talk you don’t have to try to rush through chewing, you don’t have to make someone wait until you’ve chewed and swallowed, and you don’t have to talk with your mouth full.
I’d tear off the tiniest piece I could manage, a mere crumb, and show her. “Too small!” she’d laugh.
Then I’d tear off a big piece and render it up for her judgment. “Too large!” she’s smile, shaking her head.
We’d play this game for a while, and I wonder that she didn’t lose patience, but she never did. Eventually I’d get to the “JUST right” sized piece that would meet with the approval of our hypothetical companion whom we wanted to impress.
Then the next time I was over for breakfast, we’d go through the same routine, but there was usually something different for her to add. For instance, once she explained that using bad manners in front of company was “gauche,” thereby starting the week wherein my six year old self called everything I didn’t like “gauche.” My teachers must have wondered what had gotten into me.
“Buttering a whole slice of bread and taking a bite could get butter on your cheeks,” she explained another time. “Or with toast and eggs you might get covered in yolk.” I remember that she demonstrated this faux pas by dabbing a spot of yolk on her nose and each of her cheeks and waiting for my reaction. She looked ridiculous, and I laughed. “Now, try to take me seriously while we discuss the issues of the day–you can’t, can you?”
I could not… not that I knew any issues of the day way back then. But I still laugh, looking back on it, thinking of her entertaining her granddaughter by putting egg on her face.