Chickens lay fewer eggs over the winter, but you don’t have to rely on shop-bought eggs when the days are short: with a bit of old-fashioned know-how you can store eggs for months at a time. Freezing is an effective method for whole egg mixtures or separated whites and yolks, but can’t be used to store eggs in their shells. To keep shelled eggs successfully for long periods, you can use thermostabilisation, oiling, or a waterglass solution.
Why store eggs?
If you rely on your own flock for fresh eggs, you’ll soon find that chickens lay fewer eggs in winter. This means that if your flock is the right size to keep you in eggs during the winter, you’re getting surplus eggs throughout the summer. Normally selling surplus eggs isn’t a problem, and this can help you offset your feed bill. But if you don’t want to sell eggs or have trouble doing so, the alternative is to have a slightly smaller flock and store eggs for winter and early spring.
Freeze whole egg mixture
Eggs cannot be frozen in their shells because they tend to crack as the contents expand, but they freeze perfectly well out of their shells. To store eggs by freezing, break them into a bowl and pop the yolks with a fork, then stir them gently until they have blended together. Don’t beat them, as incorporating air means they won’t keep so well, and there’s no need to add salt to whole egg mixture. Once blended, place the egg in an airtight plastic container. Label the container with the date and the number of eggs. Frozen egg keeps for up to a year, and should be defrosted in the refrigerator overnight and used the following day.
Freeze egg white and egg yolk
Many recipes call for either whites or yolks. To freeze them separately, crack each egg carefully and pour the whites into one dish and the yolks into another. This gets easier with practice. Unless you’re planning to whisk the whites it doesn’t matter if you get a little yolk in there (defrosted frozen egg does not whisk up as well as fresh in any case), and you can freeze egg white just as it is. Frozen yolk, however, tends to go thick over time. To prevent this, add a large pinch of sugar (for sweet dishes, one tablespoon per cup) or a small pinch of salt (for savoury dishes, half a teaspoon per cup of yolk) just before you whisk them.
The most practical way to store eggs as whites and yolks is to use ice cube trays – silicone works best. Once the egg cubes are frozen, pop them into freezer bags. As a rule of thumb, two cubes of white and one of yolk equal one large egg. Alternatively silicone muffin baking cases work really well for larger quantities of egg (see picture).
Store eggs by thermostabilisation
Thermostabilization uses heat to destroy most spoilage-causing bacteria on the shell, and seals the egg by coagulating a thin layer of albumen just beneath it. This cannot be seen in the opened egg, and the whites of thermostabilised eggs can be beaten for soufflés and baking. Using a thermometer, heat tap water to exactly 54°C (130°F). Only store eggs that are clean, undamaged and absolutely fresh, submerging them in the water for 15 minutes if they are at room temperature, or18 minutes if they have been refrigerated. Bring the water temperature back to exactly 54°C (130°F) as quickly as possible, being careful not to overshoot. Remove the eggs, and drain and dry them and store pointed end down in egg cartons in a cool place. Thermostabilised eggs stored just above freezing will keep for six months. In southern areas this may mean refrigerating the eggs, which causes them to dry out in storage: this can be reduced by oiling them after thermostabilisation. Stored eggs should be always be tested to see if they have gone off before use.
Store eggs in waterglass
Waterglass is a traditional way to preserve eggs, and is still obtainable on the internet if you use the chemical name, sodium silicate, although it is fairly expensive. Make sure you buy food or laboratory grade to avoid accidentally poisoning yourself. Make up a solution of one part waterglass to ten parts of boiled water, and use it to half-fill a food-grade lidded bucket or similar container. Only store eggs that are clean, undamaged and absolutely fresh, adding them gently to the bucket each day until it is full, and topping up with more waterglass solution if needed. The solution should cover the eggs completely, and as a rule of thumb a one-gallon container should hold three dozen eggs.
Store the container in a refrigerator, basement, or other cool place where the temperature is preferably not over 4.5°C (40°F). At 2°C (35°F) eggs in water glass will keep for at least 6 months, although over time they develop a flat taste and the shells become lightly crusted with silica. If you want to hard boil one, poke a tiny hole in the big end to keep the shell from cracking because of the silica crust. Stored eggs should be always be rinsed and tested to see if they have gone off before use.
This very simple method uses liquid paraffin, a light edible mineral oil used to treat constipation in humans. Lard was used traditionally, but tends to go rancid. Liquid paraffin can be bought in some pharmacies and is inexpensive. The pharmacist may tell you it is no longer recommended for medicinal use in the UK, but you’re not going to drink it; it just goes on the shell. Note that whites from oiled eggs cannot usually be beaten successfully for soufflés or cakes as a very small amount of oil may penetrate the shell.
Once again, only store eggs that are clean, undamaged and absolutely fresh. Warm some liquid paraffin in a cup by placing it in a saucepan half full of hand-hot water, and then brush it over the eggs with a pastry brush until they are completely coated. Then store the eggs pointed side down in egg cartons in a cool place. Treated in this way they should last for five months, but they should be always be tested to see if they have gone off before use.