Well, we’ve all seen chicken eggs used to decorate for Spring. Natural, dyed, real or faux, they look pretty and are likely to inspire at least one, “Aw, isn’t that cute?” But only in this season. After Easter, keep those same eggs on display and you’re more likely to hear, “Have you cracked up?”
At least that’s the case for chicken eggs. But ostrich eggs are the egg anomaly. Up to 7″ long and weighing as much as 5 lbs, they’re the largest of all living species’ eggs. (The giant moa of New Zealand and elephant birds of Madagascar, now extinct, produced larger eggs.)
As for appearance, no dye is necessary; their beautiful cream-toned shell looks best in the buff. And they have year-round appeal. In other words, they’re impressively large objects of natural, timeless beauty with a side order of quirkiness. Here are some ways to incorporate them into your home.
A good egg: I’ve had a bowl of ostrich eggs resting either on my buffet, coffee or entry table for years and an ostrich egg lamp on my bedside table that I found at a garage sale for $15 and have treasured ever since. But as much as I have a thing for ostrich eggs, I knew next to nothing about the birds that produce them. A quick internet search changed that. Allow me to boil my hours of research into these few fun facts.
Did you know?: Ostriches are native to South Africa. There farmers encourage them to roam alongside their sheep and cattle because, while ostriches eat a mostly vegetarian diet of grasses, fruits, flowers and the occasional locust, they can also take down the prey of their fellow grazers (think mountain lions) with one swift kick. If you’re human, you may also be kicked and killed, but the ostrich is just as likely to be afraid of you and run away–clocking in at speeds up to 43 mph–or hide, laying its body flat to the ground.
But they won’t be burying their heads in the sand. That myth likely stems from their system for nest building. A dominant male uses its head to dig a hole in the sand, creating a nest for his hens’ eggs. While doing so, his head appears to be buried, as does the female’s as she dips her head into the nest to turn the eggs. No head burying involved! Instead, if she’s the dominant female, she’s likely too busy sniffing out the weaker females’ eggs and tossing them out of the nest, in an alpha-imposed natural selection process.
Foot fact: Ostriches can also be a bit fumbly on their feet and have been known to step on and crush their own beautiful eggs. This may or may not have something to do with their brains reportedly being the same size as their eyeballs!
Incredible and edible: Ostriches lack teeth, so they swallow pebbles to grind food in their gizzards. They can live for an average of 75 years, growing a foot per month during their first year of life! An adult female can lay eggs until age 40 at an average of 60 per annum (the record is 100!) but the laying–and mortality–is often cut short because ostrich skin is a fashionable alternative to cow leather, their plumes are popular for feather dusters (and chic lights) and their meat (touted to be low in fat and cholesterol and to taste more like steak than chicken) makes regular appearances on menus in Europe.
The sunny side: Here in Santa Barbara, we’re lucky enough to live forty five minutes away from OstrichLand in Buellton where you can purchase fresh eggs that will keep you in scrambled eggs for days. (One ostrich egg equals 18-24 chicken eggs.) If you blow the shell yourself you’ll end up with an eggshell souvenir and DIY pride. Don’t worry, you’ll have time to build up your egg-blowing courage. OstrichLand says a fresh ostrich egg will keep for 30 days unrefrigerated and 60 days in your fridge.
Do try this at home!: When you’re ready, wash the shell with hot soapy water. Determine which end you want the hole to be on and rest the opposite end in a coffee mug. Grab a Phillips screwdriver, a hammer, a skewer, and a plastic straw. Position your screwdriver where you’d like the hole and tap the hammer down on the top of the screwdriver’s handle. The shell is about .06″ thick so this may take a few taps. Once you start the hole, enlarge it by slanting the screwdriver and chipping away until the hole widens. When the hole becomes the size of a dime, insert a wooden skewer and stir the egg and yolk to break it up making it easier to flow out of the hole. For good measure, give the egg a vigorous shake, as well.
Next: Insert a plastic straw into the hole, suspend the egg over a large bowl and begin blowing air into the straw. Yolk and egg white will blow up through the space surrounding the straw. Keep going until all the insides are extracted. Rinse the egg inside and out with warm soapy water, pour out the excess water and set it in a safe place to air dry.
Good eats: Once the contents of your egg are removed from the shell, if refrigerated they’ll have an edible lifespan of about a week and a half. Or you can freeze them. You’ll end up with a mixture of commingled white and yolk which is ideal for scrambled eggs, omelets, and quiches. Ostrich eggs tend to be lighter and fluffier than chicken eggs. Tip: If the egg mix starts to smell bad, it is bad and you should toss it.
Happy, almost, Easter!
Note: This post has been adapted from my column Design Intervention that runs every other Saturday in the Santa Barbara News-Press.