“May I look, can you really see if there is a chick growing inside the egg without breaking the shell?” To a young child viewing eggs with the egg candler was magic! “Do you have to do all of these, the entire basket?”, I asked.
“Yes”, Mr. Ben explained, “The tiny fluffy baby chick looks cute in the hen house but a partially developed baby chick in your breakfast frying pan would not be so cute. We look inside each egg to make sure it is safe for you to take home and eat.”
The egg candler was a simple device to help you see if your eggs were fertilized and if an embryo was growing inside the egg. Simply turn on the light to the candler in a dark area of the store and let the light from the egg candler shine through the egg and you could see what was going on inside the eggs.
Raising a flock of backyard chickens ensures that you have a steady supply of fresh eggs. But if you plan to sell eggs, prepare to learn about candling, a process still used today. Candling is the age-old method of looking inside an egg, without breaking it open, to determine what’s going on inside. Prior to electricity, candles were used as the light source.
Instead of waiting for the shell to crack with the peck of a tiny beak, farmers candled eggs to determine if an embryo was inside and to check the development of the baby chick. The procedure also helped store owners determine the quality of the eggs for human consumption. The amount of air inside the shell indicates the egg’s freshness. Looking at the egg’s air cell, the yolk and the albumen, or egg white, determines whether the egg should be purchased to be resold for human consumption.
Farmers hoped to see a small spot with spiderlike legs, the embryo’s blood vessels, branching out from the center. This was a living embryo.
The store owner would purchase eggs that were uniformly opaque with a shadow cast by the yolk which meant it had never been fertilized.
Ladies in the Granville community took their eggs in egg baskets to T.B. Sutton General Store to barter for needed supplies. Ben Sutton, as he was called, would take the eggs from the basket and candle each one with his homemade egg candler. It was made from a wooden Nehi drink carton. He placed the carton upside down over a bare electric light bulb. In the top of the box, or what was originally the bottom, he had cut holes where the eggs were to be placed. When placed in a dark area of the store, the light would shine through each egg allowing you to view inside the shell.
Visit the Farm to Table Museum in Historic Granville where you can see Ben Sutton’s homemade egg candler made from a wooden Nehi crate. Historic Granville is open Wednesday – Friday 10AM-4PM and Saturday 10AM-5PM.