There are few places to get face-to-face with the diversity and specificity of human ingenuity like one can at Sur La Table. The kitchenware emporium overflows with food prep gadgets: a plastic, fish-shaped yolk extractor; a tortilla toaster; a little cup that dices garlic cloves in a perfect grid with just a push; a food dehydrator. These devices are not absolute necessities to make a good meal; they just make your cooking experience slightly easier, a little less messy. It’s fun to imagine your own kitchen fully stocked with such specific tools. But, unless you’re in a certain tax bracket and/or host a Food Network show, that’s just a fantasy for most folks.
But there’s one unnecessary kitchen item we should all have and can all afford: an egg cup. You don’t need an egg cup, no. But damn it, you deserve an egg cup.
If you’re anything like me, you’re not spending a fortune on kitchen appliances. Most everything in my cabinets serves a multitude of purposes: I have a couple skillets, two burn-stained baking sheets, a few pots of various sizes, and a decent collection of whisks, wooden spoons (slotted and not), and spatulas shoved into a drawer next to the stove. With this collection, I feel confident in my ability to cook up any number of beginner-to-intermediate recipes. If a recipe calls for something like, say, a specialty crêpe pan I’ll either improvise, or make something else. I’m considering investing in a Crock-Pot, specifically for its utilitarian properties.
But not my egg cup. That’s my exception. Compact, perfect, purple, this dish makes my morning serving of protein (and several pinches of salt) a shade more refined. I bought this dreamy miniature goblet for $10 from Le Creuset (luxury of luxuries, people) just a few weeks ago, and am not quite sure what I’ve been doing with my life up until this point. You can spend $55 on this gorgeous pewter cradle, or just $1.95 on classy stonewear; either way, it’s a luxury purchase. Is it a tool? Is it a dish? Is it a marker of how seriously one takes their egg consumption? Or is it, perhaps, all three? This genre-defying device is a discreet way to vastly improve your breakfast experience, coating your meal in a thin layer of yolky luxury.
The egg cup has one purpose: to make eating a soft-boiled egg as simple as possible. It shields the diner from the absolute indignity of thwacking a hot egg around a cereal bowl. Such rigid utility is common with luxury items—even integral to their cache. A designer crocodile leather couch is not going to pull out into a sofa-bed. A Lamborghini is not meant for taking the carpool to soccer practice. An egg cup sure as shit won’t do for scrambled egg consumption. The fewer functions an item has, the more lavish, no matter how simple the purpose.
For a long time, I thought I didn’t need an egg cup. I was eating soft-boiled eggs for breakfast several mornings a week, burning my fingerpads on hot shells before succumbing to cradling the orb in a paper towel. “Why bother getting an egg cup?” I thought, smugly. “I’m still successfully eating these delicious eggs, sans fancy specialty device.” What an idiot I was. Once I began to reconsider my position, purchasing an egg cup was something I only a remembered I wanted while I was actually eating breakfast—the second I finished, the thought vanished, like when you’re low on shampoo and immediately forget that once your hair’s clean. So I’m writing this to remind you, during non-breakfast hours, that you should get an egg cup. You deserve that tiny bit of a.m. extravagance, if only for a few minutes.
Fittingly, the history of these delightful little perches in western culture is steeped in leisure. The oldest documented egg cups were found in the ruins of Pompeii in 79 A.D.—and no one knew quite how to kick back and live large like the ancient Romans, right? The dishes rose to popularity again centuries later, among aristocrats in Elizabethan England, and, too, in 17th- and 18th-century France. Including at the platonic ideal of masturbatory extravagance: Versailles. Folklore has it that Louis XVI would dazzle dinner tables by “beheading” an egg-in-cup with one clean swoop of his knife. (Yikes, both in the deep irony of that act and in what passes for “talent” when you’re extremely rich and powerful.) In the early 20th-century America, the dish was popularized via the art-deco movement, then democratized by mass production. The egg cup may not be an elites-only object today, but centuries of casual opulence rattle within every firmly tapped boiled egg.
The practice of egg-cup collecting is called pocillovy. I’m not there yet, nor am I arguing for you to go there, but if you’d like to, by all means be my guest. In case you’re interested in fully diving into in the subculture, here’s a nice, 18-year-old blog from an enthusiastic, British egg cup collector (“pocillovist”) named Lesley. The piece, published in the Journal Of Antiques And Collectables, is full of gems: “By 1992 I had 500 egg cups! Never in my wildest dreams did I think of such quantities when I started collecting but more were to come!” If this piece—mine or Lesley’s or both—launches you into a second life as a zealous pocillovist, blessings to you.
What if I had the perfect device to make everything I did as seamless as possible? What if every scenario had its egg cup? An umbrella big enough to keep my entire radius dry, and small enough to take up zero space on a busy sidewalk; a razor-sharp fork that successfully stabs bowtie pasta without the predictable slippery scramble; a fold-up bike helmet so I could take bike shares from point A to point B without fearing for my safety with every peddle. Of course, these perfect objects are all nice to imagine, but they’re not my reality. For now, 10 minutes a day with my purple egg cup will suffice.