“There is more than the communion of bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” These words, written long ago by M.F.K. Fisher, symbolize what occurs with the right combination of people, place, and food. There is a blending of spirits when nourishment and good conversation are shared among family or friends. Bread and wine are not necessarily the catalysts for creating a communal bond. It can happen around a pot of egg coffee, too.
Three weeks ago we reconnected with a group of people we have known for many years but not seen in a long time. 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 occur 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.
For several years in early marriage, we made repeated visits to a stone farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the family home of Dale and Marilyn Larson. The 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 is standing in the kitchen around an enamel coffeepot with a broken egg inside.
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 goes like this.
A young Swedish girl, named Edla, moved to southern Minnesota in the late 1880s. She was terribly homesick, often going into the fields late at night to have a little cry by herself. Then, Karl Larson 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. Edla’s grandson, five-year-old Dale Larson, would walk across two large farm fields in order to visit his grandparents. For his mother to give permission, he had to hold 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.
Every time we visited the stone farmhouse we drank it, too. It was a morning ritual perfected over generations, fascinating to watch, delicious to drink. But it 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 and get refreshed.
I tried making egg coffee each time we returned from those Ann Arbor visits. But it was never quite right. I was probably too impatient or more easily lured by push button coffee making. Eventually the attempts stopped. The enamel pot became merely decorative. But I know I was trying to recreate the feelings I had in that stone farmhouse kitchen.
These days I’m more patient about the sweet spot of slow preparation before enjoying the end result. With an enamel coffee pot from the flea market and renewed step-by-step guidance, a breakfast routine emerged. Gazing at the courtyard colors from our apartment window in Paris, sipping a cup of Dale Larson’s Swedish egg coffee, I’m reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s essay “On Friendship”:
“…And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit…
…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.”
Egg coffee is about as good as it gets for those who love a strong, smooth, mellow brew. What happens is this: The egg congeals coarse coffee 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, too.
With or without the shell, I find no difference in taste. Edla Larson kept adding water to the same pot all day long. She was probably frugal with both eggs and coffee. I tried a second round of boiling water and the coffee still tasted fine, but don’t go beyond that. Just start over. You can afford the eggs.
LARSON FAMILY EGG COFFEE
- Determine how many cups [8oz] of coffee your pot makes. Break one egg into bottom of pot, with or without the shell.
- Measure in coffee–one heaping scoop for each cup plus one for the pot.
3. Stir mixture with chopstick to combine egg and coffee grounds. Pour boiling water over egg/coffee mix. Stir together with chopstick.
4. Place enamel pot over heat. When it starts to foam up and boil, turn off heat immediately. Watch closely so it doesn’t boil over.
5. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Then pour and enjoy. You can use a sieve to strain, but if you pour slowly it is not necessary.