They looked disconcertingly like eyeballs afloat in a jar. Weren’t there pickled cow eyeballs at my high school’s biology lab, or was this an image I got from a movie or a book? Sometimes I wonder about the things I remember – what is real, what is not.
“Do you want an egg too?” I called down to Sam, grabbing the jar.
“What, are the chickens laying again? You didn’t say anything this morning.” He looked at me with happy surprise as I climbed down from the loft. When the glass jar with the pickled eggs came into view, his smile disappeared.
“You’re not going to eat any of those, are you? Do you know how old they are?”
I looked at my handwriting on the lid: May 2008, it said. Thinking about it gave me a slightly queer feeling in my stomach but the food craving for eggs won out.
Food cravings … this integral part of bush life. I don’t mean the urge people get late at night for french fries or ice cream, the inner debate if one really should order in a pizza or not. I’m not talking about the struggle to adhere to a diet, guiltily slipping a chocolate bar into your mouth.
No, what I mean is the obsessive reading of cookbooks, drooling over the menus printed in the phone book, reciting a wish list of meals to your partner. A constant nagging at the back of your mind and in your mouth about prawns in lemon butter, oranges, cream cheese, grapefruit and – eggs. And no way of getting any of it for another two months or so.
Actually, I found that taking multivitamins and minerals helps. I’ve been doing that for the last couple of winters and it hasn’t been all that bad, except for the egg craving lately. Which I blamed entirely on Sam and his constant questions about our hens’ non-existing egg production: no wonder that vitamins didn’t help.
I put the jar of pickled eggs down on the kitchen counter and surveyed the contents through the glass. It looked fine. My foray into egg pickling a year and a half ago had been not much of a success taste-wise. Unsure of what would be the best recipes, I had tried different things and the two jars I had opened up earlier (last year, that is) had contained almost inedible vinegary rubberized eggs. They were so acid that there was no egg taste left and they just about peeled off our stomach lining, though they probably would have made dandy ping pong balls.
I opened the lid and sniffed – vinegary, to be sure, but not in a sinus-clearing way. Maybe this was a jar with a lower acid content, although wouldn’t that increase the risk of spoilage? Heroically (madly?), I speared an egg with a fork and lifted it out, dripping. It looked fine.
Sam watched me horrified. “Lisa, don’t eat that! You’re going to get seriously sick. Do you want to spend the night in the outhouse, barfing up pickled eggs?”
The mental image of me hanging over the Styrofoam seat and regurgitating things over the frozen brown tower in the hole gave me pause, but then I reasoned that a bucket could be pressed into service if necessary. If necessary, those were the key words. Weren’t our stomachs and intestines hardy from drinking lake water and eating all kinds of things well past the best before date?
“You ate the mayonnaise last year that was expired in 2007 and it did no harm,” I reminded Sam and took a bite of the 19-month old egg. It wasn’t nearly as hard and rubbery as the other ones had been and the vinegar taste was only slight. Pleasantly surprised, I took another bite and savoured the eggy taste of it.
“Oh, this is good! Really, you should try one. Not too acidic at all. Now why didn’t I write down which recipe I used for which jar?” Gleefully, I devoured the rest of the egg and cast a speculating eye at the jar. Should I have another one?
Sam was aghast. This was food cravings taken to the extreme. He swore to abstain from any further remarks about eggs and refused even the tiniest taste sample. It did seem prudent to me to only have the one egg and follow it up quickly with a slice of bread, to con my stomach into thinking it was business as usual.
And I’m pleased to report that it worked – no ill effects whatsoever, and by now I’ve eaten half a dozen of the eggs.
How nice, I thought, if our trapper neighbour comes over for a visit, we can even offer him eggs.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the Yukon
River south of Whitehorse.