There are several techniques for preserving whole shell eggs, raw and uncooked, without refrigeration.
You can coat the egg shells with a substance that prevents air from getting into the egg. Traditionally, fats such as lard or butter were used. You’d put some lard or butter on paper and then use that to wipe the fat over them.
Use of Isinglass
In more recent historic times, you could also use liquid paraffin or liquid Isinglass, rubbing the liquid over them. In fact, you could buy shell eggs dipped in Isinglass in Britain right up until the early 1960s. It puts a sort of varnish shine on the eggs.
In the first half of the 1900s, people at home would preserve many eggs in a bucket or crock filled with liquid Isinglass, and the technique is still viable. Isinglass is bacteria-resistant, and helps prevent organisms from entering the eggs, as well as helping prevent evaporation of the water content of the eggs.
If the eggs are from a farmer or backyard (i.e. not commercially cleaned), wipe them with a damp cloth (don’t wash.) Use only eggs with no surface cracks.
Mix the Isinglass into water, heat, and let cool, at which point it will form a sort of white jelly substance.
Arrange the raw shell eggs in the crock, point down. Pour the cooled Isinglass mixture over them to cover completely, then cover the crock to keep dirt, bugs, mice, etc out of it.
Keep the eggs submerged in the Isinglass completely until you take them out for use, and keep the crock in a cool place: this technique does not work well in warm places.
Eggs stored this way will keep for 6 months to a year.
They should be used as an ingredient in something, such as baking, rather than as say a boiled or fried egg on their own, as they will have a slight chalky taste. The shells get fragile, so you wouldn’t want to use as a boiled egg, anyway, as the shells will crack. At around the six month point, the whites will get too thin for whipping.
When you use them, smell to see if any have gone off, and crack them one at a time into a saucer to inspect before adding to other cracked eggs or a recipe’s ingredients. The ones that went off may have had undetectable fine cracks in the shell.
Other mixtures: Waterglass, Gum Arabic, KeepEgg
Waterglass, aka sodium silicate, can also be used, mixed up one part sodium silicate to nine parts of water.
From ‘The Times’ Feb. 1939 re. preserving eggs: “….apart from the cost of the eggs there need be no further expenditure beyond a few pence for waterglass sold for the purpose and obtainable at a local store……”
You can also use gum arabic dissolved in water, 1 part gum arabic to 1 part water.
A commercial substance in Australia used to be called “Keepegg.” It was a waxy, vaseline-like substance in a jar that you’d smear on the egg shells. It was used a lot during the Second World War, and by people living in remote places. Even Dame Edna mentions her family using it while she was growing up.
Preserving Eggs by Pickling
You can also pickle the eggs (see separate entry.)
Don’t freeze whole shell eggs; they will expand and explode and be unusable.
To freeze eggs, use three separate ice cube trays. Crack the eggs: the white go into a cube mould in one tray, the yolk in another in the yolk tray. You’ll need two trays for the whites, most likely.
When finished, wrap the trays in tin foil, and freeze.
2 white cubes = white from 1 egg
1 yellow cube = yolk from 1 egg
2 white and 1 yellow = 1 whole egg
Whites won’t whip quite as good as fresh whites.
Literature & Lore
“Eggs to be preserved whole in the shell should be clean and dry, but do not wash them as the shell is porous and this practise can cause disease. Instead, wipe them with a damp cloth and then a dry one. You can then rub them with buttered paper or liquid paraffin so that all air is excluded and they will keep for six months or longer. … When I was a child we used to store eggs in isinglass, which can be bought from a good pharmacist. The eggs are layered point down in an earthenware crock or glass jar. You pour over the cooled liquid, ensuring the top layer of eggs is completely submerged, and then cover to keep out bugs and dirt and to prevent evaporation. Eggs stored like this will keep from six months to a year, but they should be used for baking or made dishes as they have a slight taste if boiled or poached and the shells will crack if boiled. After six months the whites go a little thin so they are not really suitable for whipping.’ — Wright, Clarissa Dickson and Johnny Scott. A Greener Life. London: Kyle Cathie Limited. 2005. Page 119.
“Perhaps it is now trendy to have chickens in the backyard. In my Moonee Ponds childhood, people who kept fowls were thought to be slightly common — which meant the whole of Moonee Ponds. Then during the war we used to smear eggs with an ointment called Keepegg so they’d last for ages.” — Quoted by Suzanne Carbone and Lawrence Money. “Warney lays his cards on the table.” Melbourne, Sydney: The Age. 31 October 2007.
Preservation (of Eggs). Georgia Egg Commission. 2005. Retrieved April 2011 from http://www.georgiaeggs.org/pages/preservation.html