The Old Time Non-Electric Alternative
Did you know that are a few different old-time ways to preserve fresh eggs for many months without electricity?
Freshly laid eggs have been successfully preserved by being kept in a “water glass” solution, in a lime water solution, by being coated with mineral oil, Vaseline or paraffin wax, and by being buried in sawdust, sand, oats and in salt.
Of all the old-time methods of preserving fresh eggs the “water glass” method gives the best and most dependable result. Fresh, unwashed eggs kept in a solution of water glass will remain good and useable for 4 to 6 months when properly collected and stored.
“Water Glass” or “liquid glass” is sodium silicate and is the generic name for sodium metasilicate (Na2SiO3).
Nowadays water glass has become very hard to find. At one time it was readily available in drug stores, hardware stores and building supply warehouses.
Water glass is alkaline in nature and has the taste of washing soda. It is used for general cleaning purposes, to seal unfinished cement floors and as an adhesive. Water glass is a clear, slightly syrupy liquid that comes already dissolved in a gallon bucket.
It has been within my lifetime that the “water glassing” of eggs has fallen out of favor due to the availability of refrigeration in most American households; and because of cheap eggs due to factory farmed hens kept confined in battery cages and under constant electric lights.
If you don’t know already, hens will naturally cease egg production once daylight hours are decreased during the winter months. Many people who have electricity will put a light in the hen-house during the winter to force hens to lay. Lighted hen houses and long-term cold storage are the reasons that there are eggs in the grocery store during the winter months. Without electric lights most hens will lay hit or miss during the winter.
Before refrigeration became commonly available keeping fresh eggs in a crock of water glass was the preferred method of egg preservation.
And for many rural American families, before the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, water-glassing eggs was the only way that they could manage to have eggs during the winter months when hens are discouraged from laying due to the cold and dark days. By saving surplus eggs during the spring and summer when eggs are plentiful, farm families were guaranteed a steady supply of eggs through the winter months.
Sadly, within the course of 2 generations what was at one time everyday household information has been lost and forgotten. Water glassing has gone the way of pant and curtain stretchers and wire bail canning jars.
In fact here in western Pennsylvania among many of the local Amish under the age of 35 years old, the water glass method of egg preservation is unknown to them. The older Amish – my age and older – know what water glassing is.
To preserve eggs in a solution of water glass you must first obtain the water glass, which for me was easier said than done. I thought for certain that since I live in a heavily populated Old Order Amish area that water glass would be readily available in the local hardware stores. I was wrong.
I had to do a lot of asking and calling around and that’s how I found out about the younger Amish not knowing about water glass. I finally had to get it from Lehman’s Hardware because no building supply or hardware store in my area had ever heard of it. Except for the hardware store in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, whose customers are Amish. The owner of that store told me he doesn’t carry it because there is not a demand for it anymore.
How Water Glass Works
Eggshells are porous – that’s why an incubating chick embryo can breath.
Eggs will spoil and lose freshness due to bacteria passing through the shell and by moisture evaporation leaving through the eggshell. The way that water glass preservation works is simple and straightforward. The water glass blocks and fills the pores of the eggshell thereby preventing bacteria from entering inside the egg and moisture from leaving the egg.
Eggs For Water Glass Preservation
DO NOT USE WASHED STORE BOUGHT EGGS FOR WATER GLASS PRESERVING – they absolutely will not keep!
Eggs that are to be used for water glassing must be completely fresh and clean – they must not ever be washed. By washing a fresh laid egg you will remove the protective coating. It is permissible to lightly wipe an egg with a dry cloth if it is a little soiled.
The best eggs are collected from fresh clean nest boxes and will have no cracks or imperfections. One cracked egg will spoil the entire crock of eggs.
If has often been said that the best eggs for water glassing are collected during the spring months of March, April and May. I think the reason for this it that the weather has not turn too hot and the cooler weather keeps an uncollected egg fresher in the nest box. That said I will be collecting eggs this year during May, June, July and August for winter storage.
Old timers would not permit the rooster to run with the hens for up to a month before eggs are collected for water glassing in fear of a fertile egg beginning to develop. I don’t think this is a real concern as long as the eggs are collected daily and stored properly. But no matter what I think, the practice of early 20th century housewives was to always crack eggs that had been stored by any method into a separate bowl for examination before cooking with them. After all who am I to argue with experience?
Water Glassing Eggs
Water glass needs to be diluted. I use the 11 to 1 ratio recipe – or 11 parts water to 1 part water glass (sodium silicate) or 11 quarts of water to 1-quart water glass or 11 pints of water to 1 pint of water glass – you get the idea. It works out to 1 quart of water to 1/3 cup of water glass
And just so you know some recipes will give a 9 to 1 or 10 – 1 ratio. I have no experience with them.
The water should be measured out, boiled and then allowed to cool completely. Many older recipes recommend rainwater.
Sterilize a clean ceramic crock, plastic bucket, wooden keg or other container with boiling water. You want to destroy any possible yeast, enzymes or bacteria. Almost any container will work but metal should be avoided (I’m not sure why).
Pour the cooled water into the crock and then add the water glass and stir well. It is important that the water be completely cool. You don’t want the water to cook the egg.
Place the fresh eggs pointed side down into the crock.
You can fit many eggs into a crock and eggs can be stacked on top of one another until the crock is filled.
Make sure that at least 2″ to 3″ of liquid covers the eggs at all times and the crock should be tightly covered.
The best success is obtained when the crock is stored in a cool dry location. A fresh, clean root cellar, spring house or cold basement storage area is ideal.
Clean fresh eggs can be added daily as the season progresses. If water ever needs to be added make sure that it has been boiled first.
When the eggs are needed for cooking remove them from the crock and wash them and break them into a separate bowl to check them by smell and visual examination. Eggs that have been stored with water glass may break when they are boiled so use caution if you intend to cook them by that method.
Fresh collect eggs will store very well for about 6 months without too much loss of quality. The viscosity of the egg white will have changed but the flavor is still good and acceptable for general cooking purposes. Sometimes the yolk will take on a very dark orange-red color but it is harmless.