Soft Boiled Eggs: Tastes from Grandma’s Kitchen

by Amber on July 13, 2011

It is with much fondness that I remember morning breakfasts at my Grandma’s house. My sister and I would tumble down the stairs in our floor-length pajama gowns with ruffles at the bottom. Our bare feet would pad across the floor into that tiny kitchen where warm sunlight beamed through the windows straight onto the small table.

Soft boiled egg in an egg cup--just like Grandma used to make.

We slid tiny chairs—each of fighting to sit on the tiniest—up to the table, eager for our breakfast. We would always request the same thing: soft boiled eggs in egg cups.

Egg cups! What a wondrous invention—tiny dishes made exclusively to hold a single, perfect egg. The cups’ rounded curves and delicate proportions made us feel fancy. The happy colors of those cups only added to our joy.

Grandpa always sat at the table with us while Grandma kept busy refilling our eggs. It seems we could eat an endless supply, and Grandma happily obliged. She would drop a whole egg softly into our cups.

When I was very little, I would ask for Grandpa’s help in removing the top. I was afraid of ruining my perfect breakfast egg. He would gingerly set the egg on his own plate and then whack it abruptly and confidently with his butter knife. Sure enough, the top section of the egg would break smoothly away, revealing a perfectly formed and un-pierced soft yolk inside.

A perfectly in-tact soft boiled egg yolk.

Grandpa would return the egg to my egg cup, and I would reach across the table to obtain a dollop of salted butter from its dish at the center of the table. I slid my knife smoothly against the broken shell of my egg, depositing the pale yellow butter atop the goldenrod yolk, and then patiently watched them melt into one.

I always ate the tiny top section of my egg first. With no yolk to brighten it, I considered it a lesser bite—and to this day I always save the best bite for last.

Only then could I begin my favorite part of the morning: dipping my spoon into the center of that glorious silky yolk. Warm, buttery, and smooth, the yellow center slid over my tongue in a coating of morning comfort. The perfect bite!

When I started life on my own, I never made soft boiled eggs for myself. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was always waiting for that visit to Grandma’s house.

I recently pulled down my set of egg cups from the shelf. Mine aren’t the authentic kind that Grandma has, which are the perfect size for a farm-raised chicken egg. Mine are modern, and made to hold the gargantuan and abnormally water-laden eggs of a factory farm, so they don’t really work with farmers’ market eggs, which is a shame.

Yet, I was longing for this simple, delicious dish. My husband’s parents had come to visit, and I was making scones for breakfast. I wanted to serve something alongside, and soft boiled eggs seemed like the perfect pairing. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like this childhood favorite as much as me, but when I brought out the tray with our morning breakfast there were “oo’s” and “ahh’s” from the family. I’m telling you—those tiny egg cups make such a lovely impression!

Soft boiled eggs served with scones--a perfect breakfast for company.

My husband had never eaten a soft boiled egg, and had never used an egg cup. His parents couldn’t remember the last time they’d eaten one. Just as I had looked to my grandpa so many years ago, they looked to me for direction on how to cut the egg top off properly. I demonstrated, and they repeated the gesture with success.

Instead of butter, we sprinkled our eggs with freshly cracked black pepper. The eggs were a hit! For me, each bite brought back memories in Grandma’s kitchen. Talk about a perfect bite!

Making the perfect soft boiled egg couldn’t be easier! It’s also a meal that can be made with 100% farmers’ market ingredients: eggs. Here’s the quick recipe:

  • Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.
  • Have on hand a medium bowl filled half-way with water and a few ice cubes. (When the eggs are done cooking, you’ll submerge them here.)
  • Using a large, slotted spoon, lower fresh eggs into the boiling water. Keep the eggs in a single layer. If you are making a lot, make them in batches.
  • Cover the pan with a lid and continue to boil the eggs for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • When the eggs are done, remove them from the boiling water with the slotted spoon and place them in the ice water for less than a minute. You want them to come down to a temperature so you can touch them, yet they should still be warm. (No one wants to eat a cold soft boiled egg.)
  • Place one egg in each egg cup to serve. I place a second (and even a third) helping of soft-boiled eggs in a small dish, which I set in the center of the table so guests can help themselves to more. They’ll stay warm inside their shell long enough for you to eat them.

Other ideas for soft boiled eggs:

Here’s a recipe for soft boiled eggs on pasta for dinner.

Here’s an Asian version topped with soy sauce.

And one more.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @The Literary Foodie July 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Love your little egg cups! I have noticed the same with the size of modern egg cups not meshing with the size of eggs from the market. I bet these are a hit with guests, and how many people our age have ever had them?
Quite an image of you and your sister, it must have been a rule to have those kind of nightgowns at grandmas house, I immediately remembered my own when I read that.

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admin July 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Jessica, Haha! Maybe it was a rule to have those pajamas. :) I bet we thought they were all the rage back then. Thanks for stopping by my little blog and sharing in my trip down memory lane. :)

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The Rowdy Chowgirl July 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm

You know, I’ve never eaten a soft-boiled egg. They always sound so comforting when people in books have them! But my sister and I did have the obligatory floor-length flannel nightgowns with ruffles when we were little. Was it a fad brought on by watching too much Little House on the Prairie, or what?

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admin July 13, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Rowdy Chowgirl–that’s hilarious! I’m certain that Little House on the Prairie was a major influence in my life. This is a likely driving factor. :) You should find an old pair of those and make yourself your first soft boiled egg. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

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Suzanne Hurt July 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Love this essay, Amber! I’ve been thinking recently I should get some egg cups – but they’re not all that easy to find. I remember long-ago breakfasts of soft-boiled eggs and charming egg cups. Your essay totally took me back.

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admin July 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Suzanne, I’m on the lookout for some egg cups, too. I’ll probably try the antique stores soon.

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Jennifer July 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm

What a beautiful memory! The ruffled pajamas…mine was cotton and surely a sister hand-me-down. I remember exactly how it swayed. I usually just had cold cereal for breakfast, though. :) I would love to become the granma with egg cups one day!

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admin July 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Jennifer–Cold cereal was what we ate at home. That’s what made the eggs even more special with Grandma! :) So funny that we all had the same pj’s! I love it!

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