Roger glanced from the darkened shop to the convivial crowd round the fire; a good many of Ute’s relations had ridden over with the lucky bridegroom and his friends from Salem, bringing with them an immense barrel of black beer, which was adding to the festivities. The air was yeasty with the tang of hops.
By contrast, the cooper’s shop had a desolate, glowering sort of air about it. She wondered whether anyone around the fire had yet missed Ronnie Sinclair.
“I’ll go and have a bit of a blether with him, aye?” Roger touched her back in brief affection. “He could maybe use a sympathetic ear.”
“That and a stiff drink?” She nodded toward the house, where Robin McGillivray was visible through the open door, pouring what she assumed to be whisky for a select circle of friends.
“I imagine he will have manage that for himself,” Roger replied dryly. He left her, making his way around the convivial group by the fire. He disappeared in the dark, but then she saw the door of the cooper’s shop open, and Roger silhouetted briefly against the glow from within, his tall form blocking the light before vanishing inside.
“Wanna drink, Mama!” Jemmy was wriggling like a tadpole, trying to get down. She set him on the ground, and he was off like a shot, nearly upsetting a stout lady with a platter of corn fritters.
The aroma of the steaming fritters reminded her that she hadn’t had any supper, and she made her way after Jemmy to the table of food, where Lizzie, in her role as almost-daughter-of-the-house, helped her importantly to sauerkraut, sausages, smoked eggs, and something involving corn and squash.
Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Chap 6 (Doubleday Canada, 2005)
This week’s tale from Outlander Kitchen involves a recipe clash between the centuries — perhaps not on the scale of a showdown between Frank Randall and Jamie Fraser (swords or pistols?) — but an interesting comparison of techniques, nonetheless.
I look for functioning standing stones the way a Tolkien fan searches for hobbit holes or a Harry Potter fan looks out for Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross, so I’m sure you can guess which century I was rooting for.
And if you’re anything like me, you won’t be disappointed.
The modern recipe comes from a chef friend of Oprah.
It’s a simple technique, involving cracking the shells of hard-boiled eggs and then smoking them (I used hickory) at 225°F for 45 minutes.
I placed the eggs on the warming rack of my gas barbecue and sprinkled wood chips directly on the metal grill (you can also put the chips in a foil pan — use a skewer to make dozens of holes in the bottom — then set the pan on the grill), closed the lid and set the dial on low.
After 5 minutes, the thermometer on my little mid-range barbecue left the desired temperature behind and didn’t settle back down until it reached about 400°F. I lifted the lid occasionally to dissipate the heat but that, of course, gave the smoke an escape. In the end, I was left with overcooked/under-smoked eggs.
Ute McGillivray most likely had complete control over the temperature at which her eggs were smoked. My guess is that eggs were put in the spaces between the fish and poultry to make the most of a hot-smoke fire.
I’m also pretty certain that Mrs. McG. would never have served the sorry looking specimens shown above. The skin on the outside in unpalatably tough, and other then the obvious smoky colour on the outside, the interiors of these rubbery eggs were left untouched by the flavour of hickory.
I’ll admit that the experiment was completed under less than ideal conditions. But even after just one try, I’m confident in supposing that over-worked pioneer women, especially practical German ones, wouldn’t have hard boiled eggs before smoking them; it just doesn’t make sense to add an extra step.
And so I took the other half of my dozen and put them into my smoker raw. This little beauty is basically the shell of a bar fridge fitted with an element and a digital control panel.
Hardly 18th Century, but it does hold a steady 225°F, thank you very much. If you don’t have a smoker, and your barbecue tends to run on the hot side like mine, here are some other options:
- Embrace easy and cheap and make your own Stovetop Smoker with an old wok and small cooling rack.
- Add to your kitchen accessory collection and buy a Stovetop Smoker.
- Go fully authentic and build your own Smokehouse. (It helps to have your own personal Jamie Fraser for this.)
This time, the colour and flavour of the smoke penetrated through the white to just touch the yolk. These old-fashioned babies were delicious.
The next time I put some chicken or tuna into the smoker, I’ll fill in the gaps with eggs. It’s an easy, flavourful, yet unusual way to bring the Fraser Clan to your table.
Place as many eggs as you want in your chosen smoking device and smoke for 2 hours at 225°F (low). Remove from the smoker and cool before serving.
Store smoked eggs (still in their shell) in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
- If you are smoking on the stovetop, ensure your exhaust fan is on from the VERY BEGINNING.
- Use an oven thermometer placed on the rack with the eggs to monitor the temperature in a stovetop smoker.
- Farm-fresh eggs can be hard to peel after cooking. Use eggs that are at least a week old or follow this tip to make things easier.
- The smoke on the shell leaves nicotine-like stains on your fingertips — wear gloves when peeling the eggs.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)
Brianna would have peeled her own eggs and enjoyed them, sprinkled with a little salt, alongside her heaps of sausages and sauerkraut.
I served mine to the last meeting of our book club, mashed with some green onions, cilantro, salt, pepper and mayo, and stuffed into lightly grilled tomato cups.
The finishing touch is a little homemade chili oil, a 21st Century, Asian update on the traditional late 20th Century middle-America garnish, paprika. I think Mr. Willoughby would approve — not that he has anything to do with it.
(But where is he, anyway?)