Long term storage of farm fresh eggs through water glassing is simpler than you think!
I often find myself saying: “So wait… how did they do this back in the day” and more often that not, I find that the old ways work as good or even better than current ways. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should go back to riding horses everywhere and living in caves. I’m simply saying that there are a lot of historical things that we’ve forgotten how to do.
How have we gotten so far removed from this natural world that we live in, that we’re allergic to everything outside and can’t stand in a field of flowers for 10 minutes without taking an allergy pill? Most people scarcely consider the origin of the food they eat each day. I secretly think that more than a few people think the grocery store is where a ribeye actually comes from.
We live in a world where 3 month old refrigerated eggs in the store are sold as “fresh” and people consider others “odd” for even considering buying eggs from a local farmer or farmers market. That’s something that we should endeavor to change, especially now that we’re seeing major shortages and inflation on egg and chicken prices.
Preserve Eggs to Counter Inflation
Do a quick search online and you’ll find examples from sites like Axios that say that “Egg prices could soar as much as 21% this year” and that’s not all. The Food Institute said in April “The wholesale cost for a dozen eggs reached $2.50 on April 13, rising 92.3% from March’s figures and 160.3% from the prior year, according to Food Institute analysis of USDA data“.
Inflation was 9.1% in June according to the US Labor Department and food prices are a key component of that. Many are feeling the squeeze of these price increases and it’s leaving backyard homesteaders and chicken enthusiasts considering ways to spread their egg harvest out some to lower grocery store spending.
Why Water Glass Eggs?
If you’re new to raising chickens, hens lay daily during summer and early fall when days are the longest. Those long days typically produce the maximum amount of eggs and short days of winter hens lay eggs sporadically. That’s the natural cycle of chickens but it’s not very reliable if you’re looking for year round food.
Most feed stores and hatcheries have a minimum order when buying chicks. So most backyard flocks typically house at least 6 birds(the most common minimum order). That means each week during the peak season, 6 hens will lay 42 eggs. Since the average American eats 279 eggs a year, a family of four will eat under 24 eggs a week. That’s far less than the 3.5 dozen the chickens are producing, so what should they do with the extra eggs?
What is Water Glassing?
The practice of water glassing eggs has been around since at least the early 1800’s. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook from 1896 printed step by step instructions on how to do it. Where did this name come from though… “water glassing”? Well there are a couple of conflicting origins for the term. The first is that the name originated from the most common container which was glass. Before plastic was widely available to people, glass containers were historically used. To this day homesteaders overwhelmingly choose inert clear glass containers containing the preserving solution mixed with water for this practice. So it would be easy to accept that the name was simply a shortening of the process to put the “eggs and water in a glass” or “water glass” them.
However, another more likely culprit is that it came from one of the chemicals used in the process. Today we call the compound “sodium silicate” or “silicate soda”… water glass. It’s essentially a form of glass (silicon dioxide) suspended in water that was historically used to preserve eggs. That’s the origin that I’m putting my money on.
Most homesteaders today use a different chemical other than sodium silicate. They instead use an inexpensive and widely available product that also dates back to the 1800’s; hydrated lime. Also known as pickling lime, slaked lime, or simply calcium hydroxide, this is NOT the same thing as garden lime. Garden lime is typically crushed limestone (calcium carbonate) and should not be used as a substitute for hydrated lime.
So why have people shifted to hydrated lime instead of sodium silicate? There’s probably no definitive answer on this one, but availability is a likely reason. I don’t know the last time I saw some sodium silicate in the canning section of my local grocery store. Various industrial applications use Sodium silicate which makes it unfavorable now . This includes the sealing of cement… so… that’s not typically something people would rush out to put on their food.
Here’s a little video showing you a couple of different ways to preserve eggs including water glassing.
What Are The Steps For Water Glassing?
We create the solution by mixing the hydrated lime with the purified water and then submerge the eggs fully in the liquid. We recommend using purified water to submerge the eggs in the solution for this extended period of time. This lowers the chance of chemicals in well water or municipal water from seeping into the eggs.
One very very VERY (yes that’s 3 times on purpose) important step is that you absolutely must use clean eggs. When we say clean eggs we do not mean washed eggs, but rather clean eggs. If you own chickens, you know that they can often get eggs dirty in their laying boxes with chicken manure, feathers, etc. You don’t want these eggs and you don’t want to wash them to get them clean. If you’re going to wash your eggs off, then put them in the fridge and just eat them fresh. You want the bloom to remain on the eggs for water glassing as it seals the egg pores from oxygen.
While this may be obvious to some, I feel obliged to share for those who may just be learning about water glassing. You cannot use eggs from the store to water glass. Washing eggs removes the natural bloom from them, and those eggs are all washed and likely bleached. The lime can further penetrate the shell without the bloom and give the eggs a poor taste. Bacteria from the water can also penetrate the shell through the pores and cause the egg to go bad. If you want to preserve some store purchased eggs that you caught on sale, check out the video above on the other ways you can freeze eggs to preserve them.
How Long Will The Eggs Last?
That’s the most common question we hear when we share the concept of water glassing with people. It’s a natural question because we’ve all heard the metaphors about “bad eggs” and that’s something we innately want to avoid.
Virtually all people that post on water glassing talk about how the eggs will last 6 months. That’s a safe estimate even if the mix is a little off, the eggs aren’t perfectly clean, or if the eggs aren’t kept at the back of the pantry. However, many people will swear that water glassed eggs can keep up to 2 years!
Now we’re not advocating for you to leave them in your pantry that long. The point here is that eggs can last an incredibly long time when preserved correctly. Mileage will vary from family to family as temperature, humidity, sunlight, lime mix, and a whole host of other things will play a part in how long they last.
When it comes to eggs, the biggest enemy is lack of humidity. There’s an air sack in the egg and as an egg ages, the egg loses moisture and that air sack gets larger. This causes the egg to more spoil more quickly. One common method for testing whether eggs are old/good without cracking them is to submerge them in water. If they float, then air has infiltrated the egg and it’s likely bad or about to go bad. So a good practice is to store your eggs, water glassed or not, in a cool dark place that’s a little humid like a basement or root cellar.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article on water glassing eggs and hope that it helps you save your eggs, as well as a little money during this high inflationary time. Check out this post on solar coop lights if you’re interested in some other things we’ve done to help our chickens in the winter.