Irish Gold

Michael Kraus

I first came across Irish buttered eggs—eggs rubbed in softened butter—at a stand at a market in Cork, Ireland. Jerry Moynihan, the farmer selling them, explained that buttering was a means of preserving eggs. Because the shell is porous, it absorbs the butter to form a more protective seal. Curious, I took one home. Soft-boiled, it tasted fresh from the hen, the yolk the color of sunshine, the white carrying with it a whiff of cream. Today buttered eggs are a delicacy, largely vanished from Irish farmyards and pantries. “You can't butter eggs by machine,” Moynihan told me. Every one needs to be done by hand. Farmers' wives used to say it was a task most difficult to execute in winter, when the butter was harder and their hands were colder. So perhaps in addition to the egg and the butter, what I taste is the memory of an Irish woman whose palm coaxed butter lovingly all the way around a fragile shell, hoping to preserve it for as long as she could.