The Grandchildren 2016

Smushed Egg Day

The alarm clock at my grandparent’s house consists of kitchen sounds: the scrape and clash of pots and pans, incremented toaster pops, the swish of the running faucet, the buzz of the cooking timer, and my grandmother’s comforting, one-of-kind voice. With her four children, their spouses, and her twelve grandchildren all residing in her house for at least one week in the summers, every meal is a catering feat. Though cooking for dinner is usually her main focus, it is her breakfast cooking that produces my most nostalgic childhood food memories. My favorite of all is her signature dish: Nana G’s Smushed Eggs.

I believe it is the dish’s simplicity and originality that has won it the most fanfare over the years. With just four main ingredients found in any supermarket and a five-minute preparation time, Nana has whipped out hundreds, if not thousands, of bowls of smushed eggs over the course of my lifetime. She begins with a large pot of boiling water and adds a splash of vinegar to hold the albumen of the eggs together while they are poaching. Usually, she allows one of her older grandchildren to carefully crack the eggs into the water. The goal is to crack them all without allowing any of the yolks to break, since the end result is always tastiest when the insides are soft and runny. If you do break one it’s never a big deal, Nana will insist on eating it herself.

Each egg spends exactly three minutes in the piping hot lagoon, is removed with a slotted spoon, and placed on a cushion of paper towels to drain for about thirty seconds. Every time it is my turn to crack the eggs, Nana and I stand over them together and watch them float here and there in the roiling water. “Aren’t they beautiful Alissia?” she murmurs in awe, “they always remind me of angels gliding on the air.” She never fails to say this, and I never get tired of hearing it. “You’re right Nana, they really are something.” 
 Each grandchild is responsible for getting their own bowl ready for the reception of their eggs. Everyone in the family knows the ratio: four or five saltine crackers (pre-crunched into large crumbs) and one pad of margarine per egg. Once the eggs have drained, every family member plops their desired number of eggs into their bowl and gets to work churning the eggs, margarine, and saltines together into an evenly distributed mush. Salt, pepper, and sometimes tabasco sauce are placed on the table for each person to add to their liking. The end result is divine. Nana’s intuition to name the eggs “angels” seems wholly appropriate upon the heavenly first bite.

A bowl of smushed eggs isn’t conventionally beautiful. Lenses of familiarity and affection allow my eyes to see the bright yellow color and lumpy texture as akin those striking satellite photos of our fiery sun, especially when sprinkled with tabasco. However, I think most people would agree that upon first inspection smushed eggs look more like a quagmire of sulfuric mud. When I have served smushed eggs to people outside my family, they commonly remark that the mush looks like baby food, or they raise their eyebrows silently implying their hesitancy before they take the first bite. Though the dish doesn’t look particularly appetizing, its deliciously savory and heavy smell usually convinces even the most skeptical eaters to at least try a small forkful. I have trekked many an empty smushed egg bowl from the table to the sink, but I have yet to collect the full bowl of an unconverted skeptic.

Smushed eggs have the wonderful property of melting in the mouth like a perfectly cooked piece of tender meat. The extra salt from the saltines perfectly complements the earthy, buttery flavor of the yolk, and the slightly sour zing of vinegar bites the back of the palate just before each mouthful is swallowed. Nana is a very proper woman who expects table manners to be observed regardless of the occasion; however, she makes one exception for her grandchildren when we eat smushed eggs. Instead of scolding, she smiles with satisfaction when we lift our finished bowls to our faces and lick them clean of every last morsel of glorious eggy residue.

Smushed eggs are a special dish on the maternal side of my family because we grandchildren prepare and serve them together with our Nana. Because there are over twenty mouths to feed, and smushed eggs are so easy to make and clean-up, we eat them regularly on summer mornings before we go to down to the lake or the beach. When my grandparents still owned their farm, we were all expected to rise early, eat, and get ready quickly before we left to go work out the horses and harvest the fruit and vegetables that would be sold at the farm stand, jarred into jellies, or served at our table for dinner. The farm held a special job for the youngest grandchildren in the family. Around mid-morning, tiny pairs of feet would creep into the chicken coup and little fingers would gingerly pluck the warm eggs from under the breasts of brooding hens. These eggs we rarely sold at the stand, their fate was to arrive in our bellies, most often in the form of smushed eggs.

My grandparent’s kitchen table cannot seat twenty-one people. Not even in the days when miniature bodies constituted more than half of our clan. We have always eaten in shifts for breakfast, since to use both the dining room and kitchen tables is too great a burden with which to saddle Nana. This means that the earliest risers, usually the grandchildren, eat first. Some of us help prepare the eggs, bacon, and toast with Nana, while the others set the table and place out the juices. Nana is already cooking the second batch of breakfast by the time we are well into shoveling our mouths full of smushed eggs.

Though we never sit down all together for breakfast, there is something very special about the morning smushed egg ritual. A breakfast of smushed eggs means we have a full and exciting day ahead of us, one in which Nana will fully participate. There is no time for the extra preparation and clean-up required of french toast or pancakes. On french toast or pancake days Nana usually stays home to clean up, make lunch, and prep dinner. Though she meets up with us later in the day, activities are never as wonderful and there is never as much laughing when Nana spends the morning at home. On smushed egg days the priority is to be ready and out the door to begin our fun, and the best part is Nana never has to stay behind.

My grandparents live in Massachusetts. Uncle Jim and his family lived in Singapore for most of my cousins’ youth. Aunt Janet and her family lived in West Hartford and resettled in Davis, CA. Uncle John and his family lived in Connecticut until they migrated to Cape Cod not long ago. My family has always resided in Los Angeles. Thus, the week or two in the summers when we are all together are very special to every one of us. The first morning we all wake up in her house, Nana usually dissolves into tears of joy at an unexpected moment and proclaims something along the lines of, “I’m just so happy we are all together again.” I have irreplaceable memories of seafood cookouts, farm-style ranch feasts, and chicken nugget & honey madness dinners at Nana’s. Each ranks highly on my list of extraordinary meal memories, but smushed egg breakfasts have the top spot for a very particular reason.

Smushed eggs are always the first part of unforgettable family days. The best part about the maternal side of my family is that we always play together. We wake up early and cook smushed eggs so that we can have more time for fun at the beach, splashing in Crystal Lake, and in the “old days” frolicking about Fran’s Farm. This breakfast is, in my opinion, my Nana’s best dish, but it symbolizes so much more than that. Smushed eggs signify that we truly are “all together again,” not just for breakfast, but all day long. We cook them together, clean them up together, and leave the house with our bellies full of them — all together.

One day I will cook smushed eggs with my children and grandchildren, and we will cook them in the same way my Nana did with us. We will cook them for early breakfasts, for the joy of licking the bowl, for extra time to play, for the wonder of seeing angels floating in our kitchen, and most of all, to celebrate the privilege of togetherness. But there will be one extra thing we do on these mornings; we will tell the story of Nana G., and how her eggs created a legacy.

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Recipe By Mary Beth Eberly Guiliano (Nana G)

Nana G’s Smushed Eggs
Preparation time: 5 minutes Makes 1 bowl

Ingredients
2 Large eggs
3 cups of water
1 Tablespoon of vinegar
8 Saltine crackers
1 Tablespoon of margarine
Optional: salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce to taste

Preparation
1. Begin by boiling the water in a medium sized pot on medium to high heat.
2. While waiting for water to boil, crumble saltine crackers into large crumbs inside a bowl. Add the margarine on top of the crackers and set aside. 
3. Once the water has come to a steady boil, add the vinegar into the pot. Reduce temperature to medium heat.
4. Crack both eggs into the boiling water and allow them to poach for exactly 3 minutes (be careful not to let the yolks break). 
5. While eggs are cooking, line a plate with a couple layers of paper towel.
6. Remove eggs from water with a slotted spoon, and gingerly place them on the paper towel lined plate. Allow them to drain for 30 seconds. 
7. Place poached eggs in the bowl on top of the crackers and margarine. Using a fork, pop the eggs and mash them together with the saltines and margarine until all ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the bowl. Take care not to mash the crackers too finely. 
8. Add salt, pepper, and tabasco to taste.

Enjoy while warm!

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