by Esmaa Self
Backyard hens are an integral part of our sustainability efforts here at Middleground Farm. I feed ‘the girls’ wild greens, table scraps and essential nutrient-rich gruel; in return they give us incredibly healthy eggs. Our free-range flock reduces the property’s bug population and we protect them from chicken predators. It’s a beautiful relationship, and one that blesses us all.
Perhaps you’ve heard that happy hens lay eggs. While flock contentment is relatively easy to attain (simply provide food, water, shade, soil to scratch, safe spaces in which to lay eggs, roost and roam), I am here to tell you that there is a poultry discontent beyond human control.
Some hens are better layers than others and will vigorously produce eggs come what may. Others find it too taxing to lay when the mercury rises above 92° F or falls below 32° F. A few breeds lay through the molt and when days are short, but many do not. Nearly every mature hen will lay eggs in abundance during spring, so productive are they then your refrigerator may become overrun by eggs.
However, there is a simple, trustworthy, low cost and low tech approach that backyard chicken owners may employ to safely weather egg production fluctuations while securing year-round enjoyment of treasured egg dishes.
Using pickling lime, water and an airtight container, a person can successfully store unblemished and unwashed fresh-laid backyard eggs for up to 18 weeks in a cool (45-65° F), dark spot of her pantry. I’ve done it.
The no-refrigeration egg storage process is not new. Indeed, here’s a Mother Earth News article from 1977 detailing year-long field tests of various techniques, including storing eggs in lime water.
My recipe, adapted from the above-referenced article, involves a 5-gallon bucket and between 9 and 12 dozen eggs in small mesh bags:
3.5 gallons of water; 6.5 cups pickling lime; 2 1/4 cups salt. Boil water, stir in lime and salt, boil until dissolved, let cool. Fill storage container with lime water; note date inside mesh bags with each dozen; also note date on container lid; seal. Set the filled bucket in a cool place.
A large water bath canner works well for creating the lime water solution, however if you don’t have one of those, a couple of stock pots will serve.
A word of caution:
Please don’t try this with store-bought eggs. According to the USDA , store-bought eggs will keep in refrigeration for up to 5 weeks beyond the ‘sell by’ date. These are eggs that have had the bloom, the egg’s natural protective coating, washed off and thus have been made more vulnerable to bacteria and accelerated aging.
A few additional photographs of backyard eggs that have been stored at room temperature for 124 days (18 weeks):