Because soft-boiled eggs are the way to go!
Despite being from the continental United States, I have a strange fascination with all sorts of European customs and curiosities. A habit I picked up a few years ago was taking my eggs soft-boiled, consequently requiring the use of an egg cup. One of life’s greatest mysteries, at least to me, is why egg cups aren’t easily available stateside. Blame it on my love for different cultures, or just a very intense liking for soft-boiled eggs, but the egg cup is something I tried once and now can’t live without.
What is an Egg Cup?
If you’re from Australia or Europe (UK included), an egg cup is something that needs no further introduction. However, most Americans are perfectly content to eat their soft-boiled eggs in a bowl, if they ever eat them at all, and so it is for my countrymen’s benefit that I will write this article.
An egg cup, sometimes called an egg server, is exactly what it sounds like—a small bowl in the shape of an egg used to serve hard or, in my case, soft-boiled eggs while still in their shells. This simple yet ingenious piece of tableware makes it easier for people to consume the contents of softly boiled eggs without having to balance them upright.
Using the egg cup is similarly as simple. First, the egg is placed in the cup and cracked open with a spoon. If the egg is soft-boiled, its top part is sliced to reveal the liquid yolk inside (my personal favorite is cutting the top using a topper cracker because there’s nothing worse than finding small bits of shell in your yolk). In the UK, slices of toast called soldiers are usually dipped into the yolk and eaten.
The Cup Story
The world’s first egg cup actually dates back to 3 A.D. in the Roman city of Pompeii. A silver egg cup was discovered buried under volcanic ash—the result of Mt. Vesuvius erupting in 79 A.D.
However, it wasn’t until the 1600s that the egg cup became popularized for daily use. At first (and like most tableware), only wealthy families used egg cups, which were made out of silver. But the trend soon spread throughout society, and middle and lower classes followed with the use of egg cups made from wood.
In France, both Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI used egg cups which made it a staple item in tableware for breakfast and lunch. King Louis XV, whose ability to “decapitate an egg with a single stroke” (according to rumors at least), popularized the use of the egg cup among his citizens.
Manufacturers started producing porcelain egg cups in the 1800s, although silver egg cups were also still in use. By the Victorian era, egg cups were extremely popular across Europe. Luxury china makers Wedgwood and Haviland sold egg cups with their best selling designs, and other retailers sold egg cups in sets of 6, 8, and 12 with matching trays and spoons. These collections are hard to find today and are valued at thousands of dollars in auctions or antique stores.
In the 1920s and 30s, the classic egg cup evolved to something more contemporary and avant-garde. It wasn’t uncommon to see cups with quotes such as “Morning fresh” and “An egg a day” printed on. This eventually evolved to buying the rights to a cartoon character, movie, or book for use in designing egg cups.
Types of Egg Cups
There are three main types of egg cups according to design. The single cup is the most common, and its shape is that of a small cup that can fit an egg securely, with a small stand or base at the bottom. A sub-type of the single cup is the figural egg cup. These cups resemble animals, people, or objects. Some common examples of figural cup designs are elephants, houses, pirates, shoes, and soldiers.
A double cup (sometimes called an American cup) is larger than a single cup. Its base can be used for smaller eggs, like quail eggs, when flipped upside down.
The third type is a larger cup and is similar to a custard cup. These cups were originally made as souvenir items from hotels, railway lines, and some branches of the military so their designs bear different logos and badges.
Today, egg cups can be seen all over the UK, Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. Pocillovy, or collecting egg cups, is also a popular hobby and in fact, even Martha Stewart is open about her extensive collection of cups. In America, where egg cups are much more difficult to find, regular egg cups are available online in places like Amazon and sometimes in big box retailers like Target and Walmart.
America’s Food Culture
Many people around the world are often shocked to learn that most Americans don’t use, own, or even know about egg cups. Someone from the UK recently brought this issue up on Twitter, and Americans were quick to respond with their theories and thoughts.
The general consensus was quite simple: Americans don’t need egg cups because they rarely eat soft-boiled eggs.
In fact, it’s much more common for Americans to fry, scramble, hard-boil, or poach eggs. When we do make soft-boiled eggs, we simply put them in plates or bowls, or even just eat them by hand. To put it simply, we just don’t consume soft-boiled eggs regularly enough to need egg cups.
To deepen the theory a bit more, a factor that might have contributed to our avoidance of soft-boiled eggs is a USDA advisory against eating raw or undercooked eggs which can cause Salmonella. The FDA actually reports an estimate of 79,000 cases of foodborne illness each year caused by consuming eggs that have been contaminated with Salmonella.
So while egg cups may not be very popular in America, they still hold a place in the basic tableware of people in the UK, Europe, Australia, and many other parts of the world. In addition to being a part of a nation’s culture and history, egg cups have a storied past that keeps them on the tables—and in the hearts—of many.