VII. PREPARING AND PRESERVING EGGS
Eggs have always been an important food source and even more so in rural areas as nearly every farmstead had its own hen house. However, eggs were not eaten as frequently in the past as they are today, due to the low production in the countryside and as it was hard to buy them in the towns. They continue to be a staple.
In Basque, they are known as arraultza (Ezkio-G), arrautza/arrautze (Zerain-G, Ajangiz-B), arrutze (Bermeo-B), arroltze (Masparraute, Ispoure-Ip), arrontze (IzurdiagaN).
Hens’ eggs have always been usually eaten, even though eggs of other birds were also used in some localities. In Monreal (N), nearly all the families kept hens and ducks until just a few years ago and the birds would roam through the pens, threshing floors and along the streets. Many ducks' along with hens' eggs were eaten there.
Some people consider different breeds of hen lay better quality eggs. In Barakaldo (B), for example, black hens’ eggs were more highly valued than white ones:
- «Si me caso y tengo suegra
- te tengo que regalar
- chocolate de lo fino
- y huevo de gallina negra».
- (If I marry and have a mother-in-law, I have to give you a gift of the best chocolate and a black hen's egg).
Eggs straight from farmsteads are more highly sought-after than those sold at food stores and from specialised poultry farms.
Free range eggs were usually kept to be enjoyed by the members of the farmstead. However, there were traditionally sold in some localities, in which case they were used to pay for other products, particularly food, that were bought from stores. In Izurdiaga (N), they were used as a means of bartering - one egg would get a bottle of wine - until the last century.
Up until relatively recently, a potbelly wire basket with a narrower neck than its mouth, with a wire handle over the top, was used to transport the eggs. This basket was called beso-otzarea in Zerain (G). In that locality, any self-respecting etxekoandre (housewife) had an oval wicker basket with a lid and two handles, usually painted black and known as arrautz-otzarea to take the eggs to market. The eggs were placed in layers separated by hay, which was also placed on the bottom and at the top of the basket. The basket would be looped over her arm and it would be left with the lid up to show off her wares at the market. Eggs were also transported in a large handkerchief with the ends tied together. Plastic moulded cartons are now available on the market where the eggs are placed in the holes on the tray.
In the past, when hens did not lay as many eggs as now, there would be several broods at different times to ensure that eggs were laid. Hens no longer roam free, but usually remain in enclosures and increasingly more frequently in cages specifically prepared for them. They are also fed with specific feeds and chickens are bought every so often to replace the older hens that have stopped laying. Therefore, the amount of available eggs is larger and supply for own consumption is assured. However, this custom is increasingly falling out of fashion and people prefer to save themselves the trouble of raising those animals and they buy eggs from shops. Furthermore, industrialised farming means that the supply is stable and permanent throughout the year.
Eggs are widely used in homes given their many different applications and people make sure there are always some on hand. They have invariably been the most adaptable ingredient for many stews and dishes and are used for many different purposes. They continue to be used in many different ways.
Depending on the meal, there are preferences regarding how the eggs are to be prepared, but they seem to vary according to the locations. In Lekunberri (N), if the eggs are for lunch, gosaltzeko, they are fried, and while omelettes, hard-boiled with tomato, etc. are preferred in the evening. In Lodosa (N), poached eggs used to be most typical way for dinner. In Artajona (N), scrambled eggs with tomato were eaten for lunch in summer during the haulage and threshing. In Monreal (N), they are prepared in the same way for lunch and summer meals.
It is clear that the way of cooking eggs has not altered greatly over the years, even though the methods are now more sophisticated with a greater variety of dishes.