In Europe, the tradition of offering eggs during Easter can be traced back to Christian customs. The Church once forbade the consumption of eggs during the 40 days of Lent that preceded Easter. To dispose of the eggs that the chickens laid, these eggs were collected, decorated and offered as gifts. Then, on Easter, after 40 days of deprivation, all of these eggs were eaten as omelettes. From the 19th century onwards, the tradition evolved with the advent of chocolate eggs that are still gathered during egg hunts to the delight of young and old.
With Easter now behind us, how about eating a delicious soft-boiled egg this evening?
Soft-boiled eggs were once considered a curative food for pregnant women and debilitated individuals.
It is easy to cook a soft-boiled egg, the basic principle being to plunge a freshly laid egg in boiling water. The egg white must be just barely cooked and the yolk must be liquid and warm. For French people, three minutes is the ideal cooking time. In Anglo-Saxon cookery, they tend to be cooked for five to six minutes. In the old days, an "œufrier" (a utensil especially made for cooking soft-boiled eggs) was used. Nowadays, the French word "coquetière" refers to a tin utensil used to plunge soft-boiled eggs into boiling water.
However, one cannot serve soft-boiled egg without an eggcup... or as they say in France, "coquetier"! In the 14th century, the French word "coquetier" referred to a wholesale egg and poultry supplier. During the 16th century, the term took on a new meaning, namely, an egg-cooking utensil. During the 17th century, it came to refer to a small vase in the form of a saltshaker placed on the table used to serve a soft-boiled egg. It soon became de rigueur on all refined tables.
Louis XV loved soft-boiled eggs so much that he arranged for chickens to be raised in his palace. Before he ate his soft-boiled egg in a golden eggcup, a gentleman would proclaim, "The King shall now eat his egg!" The Marquise de Pompadour's egg was served in a silver eggcup, while that of the heir apparent was served in one made of blue Sevres porcelain.
While the first eggcups were made of gold and silver, they were subsequently made of earthenware or bone china. Poorer families fashioned them from wood, while sailors made them from bone and ivory. During the 19th century, the eggcup became a more widely affordable object, ultimately becoming commonplace. They were manufactured out of vermeil, opalescent glass, lead glass, pâte de verre cast glass and silver-plated metal. Nowadays, other materials are used, such as plastic, stoneware, terracotta and aluminium. During 19th century fairs, shooting range winners received press moulded glass eggcups. This custom is the origin of the French expression "gagner le coquetier" (literally, 'to win the egg cup'), which is nowadays frequently deformed to "gagner le cocotier".
The number of available models soon exploded, with French egg cup manufacturers adopting all manner of shapes:
- With a small or tall base, called "ordinaire" ('common') during the 19th century.
- With an adjoining saucer or small dish, intended to hold the spoon and the pieces of shell, called "sur plat" ('on dish') or "ramasse coques" ('shell collector')
- Double egg cups, called "anglais" ('English') or "diabolo". - Finally, those referred to as "de forme" ('shaped'), representing animals, characters and more.
Etiquette and good manners tips to eat a soft-boiled egg:
• The soft-boiled egg is placed in the eggcup with the widest end at the bottom
• The soft-boiled egg in its eggcup is presented on a plate accompanied by its small spoon.
• The egg is never removed from its eggcup
• It is not appropriate to use one's knife.
• The most elegant way to eat a soft-boiled egg consists of delicately tapping the spoon (using its rounded end) on the top of the egg to break its cap and to remove the small pieces using one's fingers. Nowadays people use egg scissors to trim off the top.
• In France, soft-boiled eggs are eaten either with a spoon or with thin slices of buttered toast (children love them!). These toast slices are dipped in the egg, taking care not to spill the liquid yolk. The spoon is used to delicately extract and eat the egg white.
• Soft-boiled eggs should not be served during formal meals.
• Traditionally, custom dictates that the eggshell should be broken in the eggcup after having eaten the egg. This stems from a medieval superstition that held that evil spirits hid in eggs.
Eggcups are not only lovely objects, they are also collectible. In French, eggcup collectors are called "coquetiphiles". Incidentally, the word "cocktail" is said to come from the French word Coquetier. (http://louisiane.blogs.sudouest.fr/archive/2011/08/15/quand-le- coquetier-devint-cocktail.html)
A final word of advice: when in good company, you should always try not to pass for an egghead!