My grandmother used to make “cup eggs” for us when we were little. I thought they were the most delicious breakfast food, and I was convinced it was a dish she had invented just for us, her special grandchildren.
She would put eggs–two each–into a pan of cold water and bring them to a boil, turn down the heat and let the eggs cook for 3 minutes. This is not the most efficient method for making soft-boiled eggs, but my grandmother liked to take her time, making toast and setting the table while the water boiled.Then she rinsed the eggs under cold water, and (efficiency and speed kicked in now as eating hot food hot was important) worked quickly to cut the eggshell in half with a table knife, and pull the egg into two halves– at which point we could see that the yolks were the perfect consistency of runny just beginning to thicken and gel. With her much practiced hands, she ran the knife along the inside of the shell to separate the firm white and let the egg half drop into a cup. She always served these in her yellow Melmac cups from the early 1960s. She immediately plopped in a teaspoonful of butter, sprinkled on a bit of salt and pepper and mixed it all gently for us to enjoy while the egg yolks were hot and oozy.
As I said, I was under the child’s unselfconscious illusion that my Nana invented that dish. As I grew older, I learned that other people eat their soft-boiled eggs in cups. But most other people’s cups are eggs cups, not your ordinary coffee cups. Then it dawned on me that she was playing a word game. Nana had turned traditional egg cups on their heads and had invented something for us. I believe in her Depression-era mindset, she’d decided we could still have soft-boiled eggs in cups and even if she couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) afford egg cups with such limited usefulness, we would still eat our soft-boiled eggs in cups.
Soft, runny yolks, melting butter, salty whites–and all the more delicious without a fussy egg cup to get in your way. Clever she was. Or perhaps stubborn and proud enough to wear her poverty with defiance and humor. I eat cup eggs regularly in my adult life, and I eat them in a Melmac cup my sister generously gave me from Nana’s set. All the better to recreate the unhurried attention my Nana gave to making a delicious hot breakfast for her loved ones–and channel her rebellious spirit.