It had to happen sooner or later. Well, ever since the academic world embraced the grant for research and every professor put in for his share, it has been a foregone conclusion that we would one day run out of things to research. Something of the pickle we're in, now that just about everything has been studied, is shown by a study going on at a Canadian college to ascertain how many things yet remain unstudied. The plan is to publish a handbook so professors asking for grants can come up with subjects untarnished by previous research. And the bottom of the barrel is perilously close now that a team of scientists at Stuttgart-Hohenheim University in West Germany has published its findings about hens' eggs. The report has just been printed in the magazine Kosmos and states that the difference between white eggs and brown eggs is a matter of color.
No doubt this is acceptable academic erudition, but as Shakespeare put it in another context, it needs no Herr Doktor Professor from Swabia to tell us this. Every Four-H clubber who ``took'' poultry management since the Department of Agriculture was set up in 1862 has known about brown eggs and white eggs, and the brown eggs go to the Boston market. Historically the tradition goes back to the fight over Vermont. That fight was between New Hampshire and New York. Each wanted the other to take her. If you remember, Lemuel Gulliver had just returned with his stories of Lilliput, and one of them was about the little and big Endians. This appealed to Royal Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire, so he established the Green Mountains as the line of demarcation. Everybody east of the Green Mountains had to eat brown eggs and everybody on the New York side had to eat white eggs. Ethan Allen was a white egger.
This explains why Boston has always been a brown-egg market and New York City a white. But it's all in the mind, of course. When I was a tad, we had a discussion one morning at breakfast about the color of eggs. We had a flock of Dominiques that laid brown eggs and we always ate brown eggs. Nobody in the State of Maine ever even entertained the thought of eating a white egg. But Dad had picked up a setting of Leghorn eggs somewhere, and after three weeks under a hot Dominique they gave him a clutch of birds of quite another stripe. When the pullets matured, we began getting white eggs, but we never saw a white egg for breakfast. Each of us had an egg cup and every breakfast time, we'd peel and eat our lovely brown eggs.
In deference to the Wentworth Edict, Mother cracked all the white ones and used them for cakes, cookies, and custards, or to fry and scramble. And when we had the discussion about the color of eggs, Mother gave us a sensible answer. The next morning at breakfast we had a bowl of boiled eggs on the table, each one with its shell removed. Mother said, ``Six are brown, six are white - take your pick.''
And as the scientists of Stuttgart-Hohenheim have belatedly reported, there is no difference in eggs once they get peeled. The Boston Brahmin who wouldn't want his daughter to eat a white egg is as fuddy-duddied as the Lilliputian who fights over which end of his egg to tackle.
The Four-H clubbers have always been taught that hens with white earlobes lay white eggs and hens with red earlobes will lay brown eggs. Kosmos tells us the professors have confirmed this after exhaustive study, and I believe we can accept it as reasonably so.
Years ago I kept a few Indian Runner ducks for my farm pond. They lay white eggs that are just a mite larger than a hen's egg. One day I was in Wheeler's store, where my friend George was meatcutter, and on the floor sat a crate of white eggs, something almost never seen in Maine. George said it came by mistake and nobody would buy any. So I said we'd been eating white eggs - white duck eggs. George said he'd never eaten a duck egg - what were they like?
So I carried a dozen duck eggs to him and he left them on the counter while he waited on a customer. Then he heard a woman say, ``Oh! White eggs! I haven't seen a white egg since we moved here from Albany!'' She picked up the duck eggs and took them to the checkout.
George let her do it, but he told me he figured that she'd tumble to the difference and fetch 'em back. She didn't. So George paid me for those eggs, and I took another dozen to him as a gift and he said duck eggs and hen eggs eat about the same. It goes to show.