It’s 1999, or thereabouts. I am lying on the sofa in my parents’ family home, eleven or twelve years old and already beginning to feel exhausted by everyday life. I’m not like other girls; not in the manic, pixie-dream, girl trope of the selfish Hollywood protagonist, but acutely aware of my difference without being able to give it a name. I get distracted, I talk too loudly. I finish my work quickly and then become disruptive, eager to be liked, to be laughed with or at – any form of validation is fine. I complain of a headache, a stomach ache, unable to express that really, I just ache. My mum brings me a green mug and a sympathetic look, interrupting my pity party, and I pull myself up to a sitting position and gratefully accept it. It’s our thing, a secret pick-me-up for days when we need a little comfort and care.
As an adult, I still make myself an eggy cup when I’m feeling blue. It requires very little effort to cobble together and stands up as a decent meal. You could jazz it up by adding sautéed vegetables, if you like, a fistful of finely sliced leafy greens or gently wilted spinach or kale, but I love it for its kindergarten simplicity, the comforting simultaneous richness and blandness of every spoonful and, most of all, the deeply held memory of the warmth of my mother’s love, moment by moment, mug by mug.
Bring a medium pan of water to the boil and carefully place each egg into it, making sure that there is enough water in the pan to completely submerge them. Set a timer for 4 minutes exactly – I use the stopwatch on my phone – and reduce the heat to a simmer. If using medium eggs, set your timer for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. It may seem pernickety, but it works.
Fill a bowl, or separate pan, with water as cold as you can muster. You may add ice cubes if you have them, but they aren’t strictly essential. When the eggs have boiled for the set amount of time, remove them swiftly from the pan with a spoon and carefully transfer them into the cold water. This both halts the cooking process and shocks the internal membrane into coming away from the eggshell, making them easier to peel. Stand the eggs in the cold water for half a minute, until easy to handle.
Peel the eggs one by one, discarding the shells, and drop them into a large mug. Add the butter, salt and pepper, and mash with a fork until it’s a hot buttery mess. Eat immediately, preferably somewhere comfortable and soothing, or hand it to someone you care for as a silent ‘I love you’. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 24 hours, but do cover the mug with film or foil as it may stink out your fridge!
Addendum: I sent my mum this recipe for approval and she reminded me that she slices the tops off the boiled eggs and scoops the insides out, as it’s easier than peeling them. So you could do that instead. Mum also reminds me that this, with a very finely chopped raw onion in, was a family favourite sandwich filling for beach days and picnics, so you could make an enormous batch of it and do that, too. The beach is optional but highly recommended.
© Jack Monroe, 2020