An Egg in the Coffeepot

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“There is more than the communion of bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” These words, which MFK Fisher wrote decades ago, guide my interest when food, people and place are combined. I do believe in the blending of spirit when nourishment and conversation about important things are shared with family or friends. Bread and wine are not necessarily the catalysts for creating a communal bond. It can happen, too, with a pot of egg coffee.

Three weeks ago, quite unexpectedly, we reconnected with a group of people in the U.S. It was one of those bittersweet reunions—gathering to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away. And, at the same time, seeing others with whom we had shared great moments in the past. The weekend was one of those memory jolts that occurs when you re-encounter special friendships after losing touch with them. It’s easy to catch up because what you loved about them before is still there. Then you want to hold onto those feelings after you part.

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courtesy of marilyn larson

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courtesy of marilyn larson

For several years in early marriage, we made repeated visits to a stone farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the home of the Larson family, parents of long-time friends. Their cozy house was thick walled, with deep windowsills, constructed from native fieldstone. Of all the warm memories of time spent on that beautiful farm, the clearest one, by far, is standing around an enamel coffeepot with a broken egg inside.

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enamelware, port de vanves flea market, paris

Legend has it that the recipe for egg coffee was carried on a boat from Sweden to the New World sometime during the 1800s. In Larson family lore, the story came about this way. A young Swedish girl named Edla moved to southern Minnesota to find work in the late 1880s. She was terribly homesick, often going into the fields to have a little cry in the evenings. Then,  Karl proposed marriage and a new life began on his farm. It was 1890. There was no more homesickness. And there was always a pot of egg coffee on the stove. Two generations later, five-year-old Dale Larson walked across two farm fields to visit his grandparents. To gain his mother’s permission, he had to take the hand of his older sister. She was six-and-a half. Upon entering the kitchen, Edla would say, “Milk is bad for you, coffee is good. Drink this.” So he did. For the next 80 years.

more flea market searching for the right pot

Every time we visited the stone farmhouse, we drank it too. It was a morning ritual, perfected over the generations, fascinating to watch, delicious to drink. But it actually became the symbol for something else—time spent with people we admired and loved. And who loved us back. Important life lessons were quietly absorbed over cups of egg coffee in those years.

During the memorial weekend for our mutual friend, subliminal messages from the Larson kitchen returned so clearly. It’s simply this; spend your time with people who bring out the best parts of you. The better version of you. Then, remember to go back to get refreshed.

I tried making egg coffee each time we returned from Michigan. But it was never quite right. I was probably too impatient or caught up in push button coffee making. Eventually the attempts stopped. The antique enamel pot became merely decorative. It makes sense, now, that what I was trying to do was replicate the feeling of being with special friends rather than simply making a beverage. IMG_2506These days I’m more willing to find the sweet spot in perfecting a ritual as much as enjoying the end result. With a coffee pot from the flea market and step-by-step guidance from my friend, a new breakfast routine has been created. Gazing at the courtyard colors, sipping a hot cup of egg coffee, I’m reminded of fragments of Kahlil Gibran’s “On Friendship”:

“…And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit

… …And let the best be for your friend…

…And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds it morning and is refreshed.”

necessary ingredients

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  • 1 enamel coffee pot
  • 1 egg
  • very coarse ground coffee
  • boiling water
  • chopstick or something long to stir with
  1. Determine how many cups of coffee your pot makes.
  2. Break one egg into the bottom of the pot. [With or without the shell.]IMG_2479
  3. Measure in coarse ground coffee for the number of cups. I use one rounded scoop for each cup [and one extra scoop for the pot]. This should be determined by preference.IMG_2485
  4. Stir the mixture with a chopstick to blend egg with the coffee grounds.IMG_2486
  5. Pour boiling water over the egg/coffee mix.IMG_2449
  6. Place enamel pot over heat. When it starts to foam up and boil, turn it off.IMG_2499IMG_2455

 

 

 

7. Cover and let steep 5-10 minutes.IMG_2502

8. Pour into cup and enjoy. [You can use a sieve to strain, but if you pour slowly, it’s not necessary.]IMG_2517

 

 

This is about as good as it gets for coffee drinkers who love a strong, yet very smooth, mellow brew. What happens scientifically is this: The egg congeals the grounds into a clump and neutralizes acidity that sometimes makes coffee bitter. It also acts as a filter, because essential oils from the beans are in the finished beverage, rather than on a paper filter. More oils make better tasting coffee. If you throw the whole egg with shell in the pot, you probably get some calcium carbonate benefits. I’ve tried it both ways, finding no difference in taste. Grandma Larson added additional water to the pot all day. She was probably frugal with eggs and coffee. I tried adding a second round of water and it tasted fine, but I wouldn’t go beyond that. Just start over. You can afford the eggs.

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perfect petit déjeuner

 

You Say Jam, Nico Says Confiture

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What to put on toast in the morning was not something I thought much about for most of my life. That is, until four years ago, when we moved to France. It still strikes me as odd how a seemingly nondescript food item can be turned into an art form once you step outside your normal way of experiencing it.

Most jams and jellies in North America are found in the supermarket aisle alongside peanut butter or honey. They can be chosen by color, flavor or, in my case, if there was seeded red fruit in it. One lone jar typically sat forgotten in the door of the refrigerator until I remembered to pull it out. It had the status of something easily ignored, possibly moldy.

Within the first year after our move, I experienced what can simply be called a “Jam Epiphany”. Students in French language courses learn “la confiture” is something to spread on the breakfast baguette or to stir into plain yogurt for dessert. Outside of class the learning curve rises sharply when you find that confiture in no way resembles Welch’s-fructose-sugar-product in a jar. Yes, it comes in jars, but the first difference is that there are shelves upon shelves dedicated to the myriad brands and flavors in every market or shop. The second difference is that you want to savor, remember, and talk about what it tastes like.

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considering the options: la chambre aux confitures

One day, while wandering about in Paris, I discovered a small shop completely dedicated to “Les Confitures”. This specialty store, stocked floor to ceiling with out-of-this-world-taste-sensational jams, was not in my normal shopping district. But it is spectacular. Now I plan excursions across town to pick up a jar, or two, or three.

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What is it about jam in France that turns my head around? For one thing, each jar tastes exactly like its name–-to the ingredient. You can close your eyes and identify the fruit from which it is made without even looking at the label. The sweetness is not overly sugary and very subtle. It tastes like pure, sweet, fragrant fruit in spreadable form.

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7 perfectly arranged confitures

Sometimes confiture can even taste like flowers. At a breakfast buffet in a chateau hotel in Normandy, I zeroed in on an arrangement of seven jars in a perfect circle of color, each with it’s own long handled spoon. They bore names like Violettes de Provence, Cerise Grillotes, Oranges Améres, Lait Confiture, and Roses Confit. I tried four of them on the good fresh bread being served. Each tasted more exceptional than the previous one. Those named after flowers were exactly as you would imagine a violet or rose would taste. They even had what looked like pieces of flower petals mixed into the jellied consistency. Lait Confiture was light caramel in color and taste. It was notable for it’s exquisitely creamy texture that made you want to close your eyes and hum. This summer when my nephew was visiting from the United States, I watched him quietly stir one spoonful of Beurre Lait Confiture into his black coffee each morning. A creative tasty pleasure, indeed.

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la cour

I have written before of my love for French butter imbedded with crystals of sea salt; how I spread it daily over toasted pieces of seedy baguette. On the weekends, breakfast has a different routine. My husband and I share a leisurely petit déjeuner in the small eating area overlooking the vine-covered courtyard of our apartment building. He starts the coffee and begins making a plate of toasted baguette. Sometimes we have the good round bread from Poilâne bakery. On the round marble-topped table goes a clean cloth. From the refrigerator comes a special pottery container. It is filled with confiture transferred from its original jar to this more festive, colorful one. The flavor is whatever is on hand: mango, fig, strawberry/rhubarb, wild blueberry, pear, or simply “fruits rouges”, red fruits. Weekend breakfasts are when we indulge pleasurably—when there is time to sit and read, or converse quietly, without rushing out the door. It’s a sweet formula we have come to love, with a pot of confiture as centerpiece.

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Recently I learned something new about enjoying fine confiture from a young boy. Nico, ten-years-old, lives in Strasbourg, and stayed overnight with us one weekend.

His mother and I were chatting over coffee when he arrived at the table to have breakfast. I served him a small wedge of Spanish omelet and two pieces of baguette toast. While our conversation continued, I became distracted by Nico’s approach to his food. He looked into each of the two open jars of confiture and smiled to himself. Next, he scooped a generous amount of strawberry/rhubarb jam onto a piece of toast. With patience and precision he pressed the fruit of the confiture into the larger holes of the baguette using the back of the spoon. Then he smoothed the entire surface, back and forth, back and forth, for about three minutes until it was evenly and completely covered. All the way out to the very edges. Not a millimeter of bread showed through. It looked beautiful. Like a rosy still life painting. Once satisfied that it was perfect, he began to eat. For Nico, nothing was more important than preparing his toast and confiture, just so.

It reminded me of a story MFK Fisher wrote about Lucullus, the gourmand from ancient Roman times. He was reputed to host lavish, elaborate banquets that were noteworthy in reputation. Yet even a solo dining experience was important to him. Once, when served a meal where “he was conscious of a certain slackness” in the repast, he became annoyed. When the summoned chef protested, “We thought there was no need to prepare a fine banquet for my lord alone—–“, Lucullus responded icily, “It is precisely when I am alone that you pay special attention. At such times, you must remember, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” Now, right in front of me, it was clear that Nico was dining with Nico. With full attention and pleasure.

We stopped talking and simply watched as the second piece of toast was readied. With no less concentration, each meticulous motion was repeated: smilingly scooping out jam, pressing it in, painting in long strokes until it completely reached the edges. His mother asked him, in French, what he was enjoying more, his toast or his confiture. There was no need to answer. Nico’s contentment was visible right down to his little boy soul.

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order online

In Paris:

  • La Chambre aux Confitures
  • Specialty Epicerie
  • 9, rue des Martyrs, 75009

www.lachambreauxconfitures.com

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jars lined up for taste testing

 

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