Hundred-Year-Old Directions for Separating Egg Whites from Yolks

Separating egg 2

Old recipes call for separating egg whites from yolks much more frequently than modern recipes. For example, a few days ago I needed to separate four eggs to make the hundred-year-old Lemon Meringue Pie recipe that I recently posted. The yolks went into the lemon custard filling and the whites into the meringue.

Old cake recipes also often call for separating the eggs and beating the whites before adding them to the batter to get a lighter, fluffier cake. . . and so do some old omelette recipes. . . . My list could so on and on.

Here are directions in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook for separating eggs:

Separating Whites from Yolks

Break the egg over a bowl, turn the small end down, and pull the shell apart, slipping the yolk from one half of the shell to the other once or twice, so that the white will drop into the bowl. If any of the yolk is mixed with the white, the white will not beat well on account of the fat present.

The Science of Home Making: A Textbook in Home Economics by Emma E. Pirie (1915)

52 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Directions for Separating Egg Whites from Yolks

  1. That’s exactly how I’ve always done it. And then once I bought an egg separator spoon but that did not work out as well. But I’ve never figured out how to break an egg with one hand the way chefs do on TV.

    1. I think that my egg separator gadget worked okay–but it’s so easy to just separate them this way that I never bother to dig the gadget out of the drawer.

  2. I’m surprised to see this. I suppose I thought everyone simply “knew” how to separate eggs. I don’t even remember learning it, though I surely did. It still works like a charm. And when it doesn’t? Scrambled eggs for lunch.

    1. The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I want to separate more than one egg, is that I should separate each egg individually into a small cup or bowl, and then pour the white into another bowl before separating the next one. That way if I get a broken yolk it’s only a minor disaster–and doesn’t ruin all of the whites. Too often I’ve broken a yolk not with the first egg I separated but rather with the third or fourth one.

  3. I’ve always separated eggs the old way and rarely break the yolks. I’ll admit to buying angel food cakes on sale as an easy shortcut, though. Separating 12 in a row is asking for trouble.

    1. If I wanted to separate 12 eggs in a row, I’d definitely start with 14 or 15, and do each one individually, and pour the white into another bowl between each one. πŸ™‚

  4. I’ve never really known how to separate an egg without using a separator! Either my mom always had one, or I never was in the kitchen when she separated eggs!

    1. Years ago I think that it took me a little bit of practice to get proficient at using this method, but once mastered it sure is an easy and convenient way to separate eggs.

    1. I really enjoy reading hundred-year-old directions for basic processes and procedures. Back then writers really knew how to write clear directions that created word pictures of the steps.

    1. I wonder if they still teach students how to separate eggs in home economics classes. (Is home economics still taught in schools? I think that it had a different name when my kids took it.)

  5. I can’t count the times, I’ve “messed up” the eggs I’m trying to separate. As life would have it, it would always happen, when I only had a few eggs, with none to spare. Then I guess I just got the hang of it. Some things just transcend time, lol!

    1. I’ve had similar experiences. I think that when I was younger I always wanted to get the last bit of white separated from the yolk, and would shift the yolk from one half of the shell to the other “one last time” and then it would often break. Now I just move the yolk between the two halves once or twice, and consider it good enough – and in the process break fewer yolks. πŸ™‚

    1. I learned this method when I was young, but then went through a phase where I used an egg separator gadget. Eventually I decided that it was easier to separate eggs using this method, and went back to it. πŸ™‚

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