Have you ever encountered a bad egg?
I was shocked when I learned the reason why many chefs crack eggs in a separate bowl is to make sure that the egg is fresh. What are the chances to stumble upon a bad egg? What does a bad egg even look like? I heard it smells awful. But I have never had a bad egg.
On the other hand, “bad egg” is also a colloquial phrase, perhaps an old colloquial phrase that would make you sound unfashionable if you used it nowadays: a person or a scheme that doesn’t live up to the expectations. Clearly, it came about when a person cracked open an egg, only to find that it had gone bad. But why egg? Why not a watermelon or a pistachio? When was the first usage of the phrase? I went digging for answers.
According to Phrase Finder, the earliest usage of the phrase appeared in Milwaukee Daily American in September 1856:
“Mayor Wood is moving heaven and earth to procure his renomination. One of his dodges is, to get up letters in the newspaper, pretending to emenade from ‘distinguished citizens,’ including merchants, mechanics and working men, soliciting him in the most pathetic terms to present himself to the dear people. There are also on the list a number of notorious blacklegs whom Woods keeps in pay. He is a bad egg.”
But this usage couldn’t possibly be the first one, since the phrased seemed already established. Through the Oxford English Dictionary, I tracked down another material that contains the phrase, published only slightly earlier in 1855. Wonderful Adventures of Captain Priest, written by Sam Adams Hammett (writing with the name of Paxton Phillips), is a collection of sketches and humor stories without a plot. In Chapter 11 titled “hints of ornithology,” Hammett argues:
“No perfection exists among the feathered tribe, and it is only among the human race that we find the PERFECT BIRD.
Birds hae invariably a beak or a bill before them, but the PERFECT BIRD has often a beak with a bill after him.
The notes of a PERFECT BIRD are usually very bad. The PERFECT BIRD has no wings, yet he is considered ‘fly’ upon all sporting matters. Some birds are said to carry brick-bats under their wings to sharpen their bills, and others, stones in their maws to whet their appetites, but the PERFECT BIRD carries a brick in his hat and a s tone in his boot.
In the language of his class, the PERFECT BIRD generally turns out to be a ‘bad egg.’”
The text was smart. But what was Hammett trying to get at here? Was he making fun of human beings? Was this even the first usage?
I was even more puzzled when I realized that in Chinese, we also call a bad person “bad egg”(坏蛋，huai dan), although it is a phrase used more often among kids. Like…you would probably call Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty or Ursula from Little Mermaid a huai dan. So who came up with the phrase first? The Chinese? American? or someone from a different continent?
So basically, my research fails to yield any fruit and I still don’t know where the phrase came from. But at least, I know I could also turn to my favorite egg dish for some comfort.
This quiche recipe is infinitely adaptable and super simple.
a pie crust (or store-bought)
a pound of spinach (frozen is fine too, just thaw it first)
1/2 cup of button mushroom
one small yellow onion
two cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of half and half (or milk, or cream)
6 oz of shredded cheese (cheddar is good, you could also use swiss, gruyere, marbled jack, feta, seriously whatever you have on hand or a mix of cheese)
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Wilt your spinach in a skillet. Put the spinach in a strainer and squeeze out the excessive juice. It would make the crust soggy.
2. Cook the onion, garlic and add mushroom. Cook until the water the mushroom releases is cooked down. Add the spinach into the pan and stir together.Don’t forget to season with some salt and pepper. You can also add any kind of spice or herbs you like here.
3. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add half and half. Season with salt and pepper. (of course, in case of a bad egg, you may crack the eggs in a separate bowl:P )
4. Lay the pie crust out in a baking dish, folding back the overhanging edge. Put the veggie mixture into the dish, and then pour the egg milk mixture on top. Sprinkle cheese.
5. Bake for about an hour until the egg is set and the cheese is melted to bubbly golden brown perfection. Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving!
What’s your favorite egg dish? Could you help me decipher Hammett’s writing?
p.s. My first article for the Next Great Generation, ”Organic food myths busted! A student guide to eating healthy, local foods“ is up online! Please do read it and let me know what you think.