“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 [1908-1992], speak of the chemistry that occurs with the right combination of people, place and food–a communal spirit shared around the table with family or friends. Bread and wine are not the only catalysts. 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 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.
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. 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.
Two generations later, Edla’s grandson, five-year-old Dale Larson, walked across two farm fields to visit his grandparent’s home. To gain his mother’s permission for the trek, he had to hold the hand of his older sister. She was six-and-a-half. Upon entering the kitchen, Edla would say to them, “Milk is bad for you. Coffee is good. Drink this.” So he did. For the next 80 years.
Every time we visited the Michigan stone farmhouse we drank it, too. It was a morning ritual perfected over generations and fascinating to watch. Making egg coffee became the symbol for something else—time spent with people we admired and loved. And who loved us back. Important life lessons were absorbed over cups of egg coffee in those years.
During the memorial weekend for our mutual friend, an important message from the Larson kitchen returned. It’s this–spend time with people who bring out the best parts of you, the best 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 easily lured by push button coffee making. Eventually the attempts stopped and the enamel pot became merely decorative.
These days I’m more patient about the sweet spot of perfecting a ritual. With an enamel coffee pot from the flea market and step-by-step practice, I can make a good cup of egg coffee now. And always within this ritual, I’m reminded of friendship and lessons learned first in a kitchen, in a field stone farmhouse, with a broken egg at the bottom of the coffeepot.
…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.”–Kahlil Gibran, “On Friendship”
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 coarse ground 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.
Egg coffee is 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 makes coffee taste 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 added calcium benefits, too.
Edla Larson kept adding water to the same pot all day long. She was probably frugal with both eggs and coffee. I have used a second round of boiling water, but don’t go beyond that. Just start over.