Suburban Soliloquy


I am fifty-five years old and I have never made a hard-boiled egg. When I was a child, I learned how to make scrambled eggs by watching my mother make them for me, but as I grew older, I lost interest in eggs, finding them very plain. They faded from my diet, except when blended into cookies or cakes or such.

My friend Jim introduced me to eggs over easy when I was twenty or so. I didn't think I would like a runny yolk and I told him I was indifferent to eggs. He then added pepper, a seasoning my mother never used. I told him I didn't like pepper. "You have to have pepper," he said, "the egg is nothing without pepper." (This is not to suggest I can remember word-for-word something said to me more than thirty-five years ago - that's the pretense of a novelist. Still, that's pretty much what he said.) I hated pepper, or so I thought, yet he utterly ignored me and peppered the eggs. Being inclined to niceness and not wanting my friend to think I was a wuss, I ate them anyway.

It was wonderful! Eggs no longer seemed plain to me and Jim taught me how to make those eggs over easy. As for pepper, I found I loved it on more and more dishes, would now apply it to most anything that isn't dessert. Salt, by comparison, I never bother with. There is already enough salt in foods.

In my later twenties, married to my first wife, I learned to make omelettes. She helped me discover that I liked omelettes, yet I never learned to make a hard-boiled egg. I've only eaten hard-boiled eggs a few times, usually as pieces found in salads. The one time I remember eating a whole hard-boiled egg was in an Irish bar in Queens and that was because I was very, very hungry. Never did I eat them with relish.

The other night my ten-year-old grandson decided he wanted hard-boiled eggs and he would teach me how. We found a carton of brown eggs sitting alongside the refrigerator. Mr Beckles took a saucepan (a kitchen item I grew up calling a pot as that is what my mother called it), cracked an egg on the rim and dumped it in. I cracked the second egg, one-handed and without breaking the yolk. I was showing off. He then put the saucepan on the stove and turned on the heat.

Okay, you are reading this in wonder, asking yourself, what the devil are they doing? But that's the point, we were that naive. Mr Beckles quickly realized our mistake. He discarded those two eggs and we began again.

This time Mr Beckles first added water to the deep pan. Then he put the eggs in. The water was shallow and did not cover the eggs. He then turned on the stove and went off to do other things. From somewhere in my collective consciousness a cultural memory bubbled to the surface - the "three minute egg". Wasn't that some kind of ideal cooking time for a hard-boiled egg? When do you start the timer? It didn't make sense to start timing the egg from the moment the stove was turned on, that would introduce inconsistencies in timing. I took the eggs out and first brought the water to a boil. It wasn't much of a boil, but it seemed all that the back burner could achieve on its highest setting. I put the eggs back in and gave it three minutes and then an extra half minute for luck.

I presented the finished eggs to Mr Beckles, but they were not finished. The whites were perfect, he said, but the centers were runny. I told him I would try again.

For eggs five and six, I put more water into the saucepan so the eggs would be covered. I placed the saucepan on the larger front burner, even though it extended beyond the base of the pan, which seemed wasteful to me. I then waited for the water to boil.

There is an old saying that a watched pot never boils. This is blatantly untrue. The water in the pan mesmerized me. Little bubbles began to appear on the bottom. Some began to break loose and rise to the top to burst and emit puffs of steam. Then there were more and more, as I watched! After a short while the entire bottom of the pot was covered with hundreds of bubbles tumbling about each other in hysteria. Suddenly, a threshold was crossed and big bubbles came jumping off the bottom to explode noisily at the surface. And I could see currents. No part of the water appeared still, but rose in columns, rolled and swirled. From my memory came the phrase, "a rolling boil". I dropped the eggs in.

Note the word "dropped". I did not drop them from a great height. I simply held them above the angry surface of the water and let go. They went to the bottom of the pan and just tapped it. Out of the cracks streamed white galaxies that rapidly swirled in graceful arcs and began creating a dense web. It was magic. I thought I saw the water turn an opaque white, but in the next instance there was a white foam that blocked my view of the water proper. The foam quickly rose to the top of the deep pan. I rushed it to the sink as it began cascading over the sides.

The saucepan proved difficult to clean. The white galaxies now hung limply against the sides and would not let go. After it was cleaned, I repeated the previous steps, but this time placed the last two eggs gently into the water. Five minutes later I took them out and served them to Mr Beckles.

He was peeling the shells and had just announced that they looked perfect when Ms Keogh arrived home.

"What are you doing?" she exclaimed! "You can't eat those eggs. Didn't you notice they were not in the refrigerator? They're old, I'm throwing them out." So the three of us went to a fast food restaurant, Wendy's, for dinner. With hindsight, I realized I could have searched for the recipe on the internet, but then I would have never seen those spiraling galaxies in a saucepan.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"