Southerners Know a Gas Station Pickled Egg Is a Classic Road Trip Snack
During a pit stop to refuel the car and ourselves, it's fun to scan the aisles for available snacks and make our final selections as we work our way up to the cash register. Sometimes, we spy the huge jar. Bingo. We found the pickled eggs, a treat that delights or really, really doesn't. For those of us on Team Pickled Egg, we know that it's a hearty, tangy, bouncy, and somewhat peculiar snack that never fails to satisfy, and garner opinions, just what we need to fuel us through the next leg of our road trip.
Which came first, the pickle or the egg? Like most things preserved in vinegary brine, the point of the pickling was to make perishable eggs last longer. Most likely it was German immigrants who first brought the practice of pickling eggs over during the Revolutionary War, although the English popularized serving pickled eggs as pub food to accompany, if not encourage, drinking. Historians think that starting back in the 1860s, bars in New Orleans and other cities used free lunches to lure patrons in for midday drinks. The meals often included hard-boiled eggs, but barkeepers switched to pickled eggs because they kept even longer and were already peeled, so no one had to sweep up egg shell shards at the end of their shift.
It's little wonder that jars of pickled eggs made their way to the store counters in places where other long-lasting, inexpensive pickled foods (such as ring bologna, pig's feet, and preternaturally huge cucumbers) were things people wanted. To be clear, a well-pickled egg is tasty food.
Before their plunge into the brine, the boiled eggs are peeled so that they can absorb the sweet and tangy liquid that features vinegar, sugar, and a variety of spices associated with sweet pickles, such as cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and mustard seeds. Eggs pickled in standard brine remain white, although some cooks add magenta-hued pickled beet brine to the mix, which stains the outside of the eggs bright purplish-pink. (Okay, some brands get that neon color from a dye vat rather than a root veg.) Biting into a pink pickled egg is a stunning reveal: its ombre fades from hot pink to snow white, surrounding a perfect orb of yolk the color of marigolds.
Some people advise against eating an egg from a jar that's remained unopened so long that it's grown dusty, while others say that only adds to the intrigue. A pickled egg fished from a giant jar on the country store or gas station counter is a snack like no other. It gets good mileage.