I care for 32 chickens 365 days of the year and last winter I BOUGHT eggs. Never again! I’m egg-static to tell you I’ve discovered an ancient preservation technique that claims to keep your eggs fresh for up to a year.
Skeptical? Me too. Water glassing eggs is either going to be a delicious high fiving success or I will die from food poisoning after I taste test the first egg in 6 months. Isn’t this going to be a fun experiment? I know you’re dying to try this with me, right?
What is water glassing eggs?
I first discovered water glassing eggs after reading this 1917 circular from the Utah Agricultural College. According to the article, water glassing eggs dates back to at least 1913 and likely much longer as it states – “The preserving of eggs in the home is not a new practice and has passed the experimental stage.” Which was reassuring to read before I actually take a bite out of a 6-month-old egg.
The recipes themselves are so laughingly simple, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of them before. Basically, you mix sodium silicate or pickling lime with water and place your eggs into the solution, which seals and preserves the eggs. Months later you can enjoy fresh eggs as if you just plucked them from the coop, according to the circular: “The quality of eggs properly preserved for a period up to six to eight months is practically as good as fresh eggs.”
Before I explain how to perform this fascinating feat, let me explain why I don’t supplement lighting and instead have chosen to try preserving my eggs.
Why I don’t supplement lighting
Chickens need light to lay eggs. Mother Nature has designed the chicken perfectly so that chicks (with their limited feathering) only hatch in the spring and develop during the warm summer months. In fact, most breeds need 14 to 16 hours a day in order to lay eggs. In commercial settings, farmers simply use artificial lighting to keep their chickens laying year-round.
Although I have considered installing lights, I would likely have to install a heater as well so our chickens have both the energy to stay warm and lay eggs. Extra heat would also help ensure the eggs don’t freeze in case I’m not in the coop the moment they lay one (which almost never happens) in -30C degree weather.
Finally, as a small homesteader, I’ll admit I have gotten attached to these crazy chooks. I hope to keep them around for as long as I can. By not supplementing lighting, I can do that. Here’s how:
Chickens are born with all the eggs they will ever lay. If keeping chickens was your day job, the goal would be for the hen to lay all of her eggs as quickly as possible. In fact, in a commercial setting, farmers can achieve this in one year! Then the hens are culled. But by giving my chickens a break from laying eggs, I can draw out the number of years they will lay for and therefore keep them longer – without my husband complaining about the cost of keeping unproductive chickens.
In fact, I may be able to keep them out of the stew pot for up to 17 years if my chickens are anything like Victoria, the Black Rock hen who squeezed out two last eggs at the ripe old age of 17.
But now, this brings us back to the original question – What do you do in the winter when your hens aren’t laying? Enter water glassing eggs or liming eggs . Here’s how it works:
How to water glass or lime eggs
On your mark. Get set. Grab your lime. Ok, not the actual citrus fruit but what is often called “slaked, hydrated or pickling lime”. This is calcium hydroxide and we are going to use it to make a solution of limewater.
I have chosen to use limewater instead of a sodium silicate solution (the traditional water glassing method, which gets its name from the fact that as the water evaporates, the solution solidifies into a glassy solid). Why? Hydrated lime is a cheap, natural product that is readily available.
Calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime) – an inexpensive, white powder derived from limestone, which you can find at most hardware stores or at the grocery store (pickling lime).
“Lime itself is a solid, white compound of calcium and oxygen,” according to HomeScienceSchool. “It’s made from burning limestone (a “stone” made mostly of calcite), shells, and bones.”
A scale for measuring the hydrated lime
Container – I used a glass jar, but you could use a ceramic crock or a food-grade plastic bucket.
Water – If your water is high in minerals or you are on city water, it is best to use distilled or filtered water.
Gloves – The limewater will be very alkaline. I suggest using gloves to protect your skin.
Water Glassing Eggs Recipe
- 1 ounce pickling lime
- 1 litre distilled or filtered water (room temperature)
- one dozen fresh eggs, clean and unwashed
Head to the coop and gather fresh, clean eggs. There must be no poop or dirt on the shells! You can’t even wipe them clean. This could remove the egg’s bloom coating, which keeps bacteria from penetrating the egg.
Carefully place the eggs pointy side down (eggs should always be stored this way to help prevent spoiling, according to this article from BBC Science Focus Magazine) into your container.
Finally, mix together the water and calcium hydroxide. It will look milky. But because this is a saturated solution, the lime will settle and continue to settle over time. Don’t worry. This is normal. Using warm or boiling water, will not prevent this from happening.
Pour over your eggs. Leave about two inches of liquid above the eggs. Cover to prevent the liquid from evaporating over time. You may want to check on them occasionally to ensure they remain covered.
Don’t forget to date and label your container. Store in a cool, dark location until ready to use.
When you are ready to gobble up some fresh eggs, wash them well first before cracking them open. A drip of limewater could cause your eggs to curdle.
PRO TIPS – Water Glassing Eggs
- You don’t have to gather all your eggs at once. You could select eggs on a daily basis over the course of a week or two continuing to add them one by one to the preserving liquid. This is what I have been doing.
- Try not to move your container once you add your eggs. If an egg cracks, it’ll ruin your whole batch. (This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you are using a large container, just moving it a few inches can cause some cracking.)
- Crack each egg in a separate bowl prior to using just in case one has gone bad. This is standard practice in our household especially when I find an egg that has been laid in a random location like inside our bag of shavings or under the doorstep. Sigh.
- If all goes well, I’m told the eggs should no longer be porous after sitting in limewater. They should be well sealed. So, if you are planning to hard boil or steam an egg, you should pinprick the shell first to prevent the egg from popping or exploding in your water.
How long do fresh eggs versus preserved eggs last?
On your counter: about 21 days
In your fridge: about 50 days
Water glassing eggs: six months or more
Before you report me to Health Canada, the above numbers (sourced from the Chicken Whisperer Magazine) are for “unwashed eggs”. The eggs you buy at the store will NOT last this long. Commercial eggs have all been thoroughly washed, bleached and possibly coated with mineral oil.
In order for eggs to stay fresh, they have to retain their “bloom coating”. This coating is what keeps bacteria from penetrating the egg. When you wash your eggs, you remove this protective barrier. Here is a more scientific explanation.
What do water glassed eggs look and taste like?
It’s hard to believe, but according to the 1917 circular from the Utah Agricultural College eggs kept in limewater should taste exactly like a fresh egg. I’m skeptical. I will update this post in 6 months and let you know. I’ve also read they should look the same as a fresh egg.
What do I do with leftover hydrated lime?
We use it around the homestead to preserve wood. We whitewash both our barn and chicken coop.
When is the best time to preserve eggs?
Although there is no best time, I’m going to start now (the fall) before my chickens stop laying for the winter. But you may want to start water glassing as soon as your chickens start laying more eggs than your family can eat. This could be in the early spring or summer.
Now, who is going to join me in this eggs-periment? Have you tried or do you plan to try water glassing eggs? Let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for the results of my 6-month taste test.
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