The practice of storing eggs in lime water goes back centuries, and it’s still one of the best ways to preserve eggs without refrigeration.
Anyone whose kept chickens knows that egg production doesn’t always line up with demand.
In the spring months, you’ll be buried in fresh eggs, right when you’re excited to be outdoors planting the garden and couldn’t care less about baking. Production stays strong all summer when it’s too hot to run the oven and you’re too worn out in the evenings to bother anyway.
Then in the fall, right as cozy weather starts, production starts to slip. By winter, when the days are short and you’re ready for some comfort food baking, they may have stopped laying altogether.
These days, industrial chicken operations turn on banks of lights to keep the ladies cranking out eggs year-round (and just replace the chickens at 2 years old as they wear out from laying nonstop). That’s a relatively new thing though, and the option of a steady year-round egg supply has only really existed for the past few decades.
Historically, how did people preserve eggs to ensure a steady winter supply?
The answer is, they had literally dozens of methods to preserve eggs. They stored them in wood ash, wheat bran, and straw, or coated them with butter or lard, or kneaded them into homemade pasta that was hung to dry.
Most of the methods rely on a few simple principles:
- Start with clean, fresh eggs.
- Don’t wash the eggs at all. That removes their natural “bloom” that prevents bacteria from entering through pores in the shell.
- Keep the eggs cool, but not too cold. An egg is a living thing, and it’ll stay fresh best unwashed and at around 50 degrees (root cellar cool).
- If possible, seal the pores off further to prevent contamination within the egg. Oil, ash, and lime are the most popular choices.
Simply storing fresh, unwashed eggs in a cool environment (around 50 degrees) will buy you a lot of time. We’ve taken our fresh eggs and stored them in the basement dependably for up to 4 months, and occasionally as long as 6 months, no treatment required (so long as they’re not washed).
If you’d like to dependably store eggs for longer than 4 months, like if you’re trying to store an overabundance of spring eggs for the next winter’s baking, you’ll need a bit of help to get them to keep that long.
While many different methods work, most have drawbacks. Storing in ash, for example, makes the eggs taste a bit musty and smokey. Storing in salt draws water out of the egg, and makes them taste a bit salty.
Storing eggs in sodium silicate, known as “Waterglassing” was really popular for a time. Incredibly dependable, the eggs didn’t spoil for years…but they changed.
Sodium silicate is used for sealing tile these days, and it softened the shells and penetrated the eggs…changing their flavor, and even their structure. Waterglassed eggs whites won’t whip, and there’s never really been any testing on the impacts of eating a boatload of sodium silicate for breakfast.
So what does work? Storing eggs in a food-safe lime solution made with pickling lime (calcium hydroxide).
The calcium solution seals the eggshells and effectively preserves the eggs for a year or more.
Though it’s called “pickling lime” it doesn’t make pickled eggs. The process keeps the eggs in their same state, and once you pull them out of the solution they can be used just like a fresh egg. They fry up beautifully, and the white still whip to stiff peaks.
It’s called “pickling lime” because it’s used to firm up veggies before pickling, namely dill pickles, and old fashioned watermelon rind pickles. It works the same way to firm up the eggshells and seal them at the same time.
Don’t believe me? Here’s someone cooking with eggs after a full year in lime water:
How to Preserve Eggs in Lime Water
Preserving eggs in lime water starts with making a lime/water solution. The ratio is one ounce of lime powder (by weight) to one quart of water.
(That’s about 28 grams per quart of water or about 2 heaping tablespoons.)
I’ll measure out the solution in a quart mason jar, and one quart of the solution is just about right for filling a half-gallon mason jar once the eggs have been added.
Give the jar a shake, and you’ll have a milky white liquid. Much of the lime will settle out to the bottom over time (that’s normal), but what you’re doing here is making a saturated lime solution.
Some sources say that as little as 1 part lime to 700 parts water creates a saturated solution, but other sources say that the lime may not be completely pure and you need to use a bit more to be sure. Still, others recommend as much as 1 part lime to 2 parts water.
At a rate of one ounce to a quart, there’s a lot that settles out of solution, and it’s a good middle ground that ensures that the solution is saturated (without wasting a boatload of lime in the process).
Carefully select eggs that are super fresh and clean, without cracks or issues, pulled from clean nesting boxes that day.
Fill a clean jar with the eggs, and then pour the lime-water solution over the eggs. Be sure that the eggs are completely submerged and then cap up the jar.
Cap up the jar, and store in a cool place, like a basement, pantry, or cool closet on the north side of the house.
Historically, they would have been stored in wooden barrels or ceramic crocks (like this one that I use to make sauerkraut a gallon at a time). Alternately, a food-safe plastic bucket will work if you want to store them in bulk.
Once you’re ready to use the eggs, simply remove them from the solution and give them a rinse before cracking. Rinsing ensures that the lime solution doesn’t get into the egg as it’s cracked, which will impact the flavor.
Then, just cook with the eggs as you otherwise would.
Other Lime Based Edd Preservation Methods
I found a reference to preserving eggs in lime water in the book from the 1950s called “Stocking Up.” It contains all manner of historical food preservation information and has a whole chapter on eggs.
It notes that most people “found some way to clog up the pores of the eggshells so that moisture would not escape and air could not enter. Eggs were rubbed with grease, zinc, or boric ointment, or submerged in a solution of lime, salt, cream of tartar, and water.”
While stocking up does not give proportions, I found a reference on a historical food and cookery site that suggest this method:
“To one pint of slacked lime, add one pint of salt, two ounces of cream of tartar, and four gallons of water. Boil all together for ten minutes. Skim and when cold, pour it over the eggs. Lay a light saucer upon the top to keep them underwater, and keep in a cool place. Renew the lime-water every three weeks.”
The downside of this mixed solution is that the salt permeates the shells and will flavor the eggs, so I’d suggest going with a simple lime solution.
Food Preservation Tutorials
Looking for more historical food preservation tutorials?
- Salt Cured Duck Breast
- Preserving Cheese in Wood Ash
- Salt Cured Egg Yolks
- 18th Century Farmhouse Cheddar
- How to Preserve a Whole Pig Without Refrigeration