I Make Soft-Boiled Eggs by Jaroslav Hašek

I Make Soft-Boiled Eggs by Jaroslav Hašek

This story is taken from The Man Without a Transit Pass, a collection by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek (1883–1923), in a translation by Dustin Stalnaker. It's our first book. Your can order it here.

I have a lovely old aunt. Every once in a while, she is gripped by feelings of affection for her kinsfolk. For some fifteen years I had not heard from her, when suddenly the postman delivered a package that she had sent her nephew in one such affectionate mood.

The last time, over fourteen years ago, she sent me a massive cake, and this time the postman delivered a giant basket. In it were found threescore of eggs, along with the touching letter that follows:

Dear Nephew!

How pleased I am to be able to send you threescore of eggs from my own henhouse! Dear lad, I care for you very much, and so I thought to myself, since I probably won’t be on this earth much longer, that this is perhaps the final grace that I might bestow upon you. Prepare them yourself, soft-boiled, and remember your old aunt Anna! May these sixty eggs evoke memories of the small plot of land in the north country, on which hens cluck merrily and you are remembered.

Your very loving aunt,


Out of respect for my aunt, I resolved to prepare all sixty eggs soft-boiled.

At night I even dreamt of it.

In my entire life, I had never concerned myself with the question of how one prepares soft-boiled eggs, but after lengthy contemplation, I arrived at the view that, if one desires to soft boil them, then one must certainly boil them. This seemed to me the only possible angle and my sole recourse, being in such a difficult position as mine: needing to soft boil sixty eggs.

I very much enjoy eating soft-boiled eggs.

However, because I nevertheless cannot eat sixty soft-boiled eggs in one sitting, I was plagued by the thought of how to preserve them. Long did I contemplate how to execute this plan.

Suddenly I found myself in a very tricky situation. I know that young wives are often lampooned in newspapers and other printed matter for not even being able to boil an egg. However, nothing has yet been written about the need of an old bachelor to boil eggs, and for this reason I wish to offer a factual portrayal of how it played out.

To begin, I purchased various books on the rearing of chickens, as I assumed that there, of all places, I would find instructions on how one boils an egg.

Sadly, in all of this technical literature on the rearing of chickens there was not to be found a single place where this theme was given attention. There was indeed much to be read in these texts regarding eggs: for instance, that chicks hatch out of eggs, and other such nonsense. It was also indicated therein, next to instructions on how to incubate eggs, that eggs are to be kept dry. However, because my aunt sent me the eggs with the instruction that they were to be soft boiled, rather than incubated, I reluctantly closed the book.

I did not wish to trouble acquaintances with the question of how eggs are boiled, so I resolved to go to a library and seek out an encyclopedia.

Under the letter “E”, keyword “Eggs”, I found the note that they are a product of the animal kingdom and that all birds lay eggs. I reflected on this at length. This notion was in no way new to me, but having now seen it in black and white, its credibility was nevertheless increased. It was therefore not simply a figment of folk tradition; scholarship explicitly affirms this notion and backs it up with an entire article.

I investigated further into how eggs are boiled. One desires not to think so complicated a matter has been overlooked by the scientific community. Yet nowhere are any particulars to be found about it.

In the encyclopedia, I came across only the statement that eggs are served as a dish and can be prepared in various ways, but how one goes about preparing these dishes remained an enigma to me, even after being absorbed in the encyclopedia for three hours.

I found only a few sentences that touched on this question from afar. For instance: “In England, eggs are used for nourishment in a variety of raw or cooked states, hard- or soft-boiled. In no proper English household may a soft-boiled egg be missing from the breakfast table. Soft-boiled eggs are generally suitable for every occasion.” However, of how one goes about bringing eggs of this kind to the table, I learned nothing.

I was left with no other option but to attempt, myself, to develop an entire theory of egg-boiling and then, alone, achieve a proper result, even if it meant the loss of a few eggs, which would need to be discarded. I purchased an alcohol stove, five liters of alcohol, and a steam digester—the use of which was familiar to me from physics class during my secondary school years. Then I set to work. I poured water into the steam digester, placed ten eggs inside, and lit the alcohol stove.

After fifteen minutes, I removed the eggs from the steam digester. I cracked the shell off the first one—the egg was still hard. I repeated this with the second one—also hard. All the eggs were still hard. So I peeled the shells from all of the eggs and threw them once more into the steam digester. This time, I boiled them for an hour. Still they remained dreadfully hard. And so I boiled them until morning. Despite my best efforts, they did not become soft.

In the morning, I was found sprawled over the basket of eggs. I had collapsed there in a state of despondency, having not managed to produce even a single soft-boiled egg. The eggs were as hard as ever.



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