Hingham was home of famous pickled egg
Hingham is a pretty little place located in the town of Lima southeast of Waldo with a population of about 900. Named after the town of the same name in Massachusetts, it was founded in 1850 by a group of Yankee settlers.
Its history is long and deep, and for a time in the 1860s, it proudly claimed the title, Egg Capital of Wisconsin, for its extensive dealings in pickled eggs. S.D. Hyde, a local entrepreneur, pickled, barreled and shipped eggs for use on the East Coast.
The July 1, 1868, edition of the Sheboygan County Herald newspaper states, “Hyde of Hingham has a method of preserving eggs which enables him to warrant them in good condition in any market in the United States.”
Another clipping from the Herald in 1873 suggested that “Forty-four miles of eggs if laid in a row, were shipped from Sheboygan County by Mr. Hyde of Hingham and others. . . That’s about 1,600 barrels or 102,400 dozen.” Hyde’s business had become a powerhouse of industry.
He sold his company to Goodridge and Best in 1879, a year which saw 400 barrels sent to New York alone. Later owners moved the endeavor to Milwaukee ending Hingham's reign as Egg Capital.
Just what is a pickled egg and why were they so popular? Typically, they are hard-boiled eggs that are cured in vinegar or brine. Pickling was a cheap and easy way to preserve the food so that it could be eaten months later, if necessary.
The process to create the eggs involves, hard-boiling them, shelling them and then submerging them in a solution of vinegar, salt, spices, and other seasonings. Recipes vary from the traditional brine solution for pickles to other solutions, which give the egg a sweet or spicy taste.
The final taste is largely determined by the pickling solution. The eggs are left in this solution from one day to several months. Prolonged exposure to the pickling solution may result in a rubbery texture which is favored by pickled egg aficionados. The cloudier and more frightening the look of the brine solution, the more intense the flavor.
Now, you ask about the history of pickled eggs. The Pilgrims, arriving in Massachusetts in 1620 on the Mayflower, brought barrels of water, beer, biscuits, cod, sacks of smoked beef and tubs of pickled eggs.
Pickled eggs were widely made and eaten by Germans as early as the mid-1700s. They were a popular food with German immigrants, especially the Hessian mercenaries fighting against Colonists during the Revolutionary War. Many early recipes come from the Pennsylvania Dutch.
In England, the delicacy was first found in a public house named appropriately, the Pickled Egg in Pickled Egg Lane, where else? The English philosophy was to throw the eggs in vinegar and let them sit forever.
The Pennsylvania Dutch created the pickled beet egg, a variant where whole beets, onions, vinegar, sugar, salt, cloves, and a cinnamon stick were used in the brine. These eggs take on a pink or even purple color from the beets and have a sweet and sour taste.
Locally, pickled eggs were celebrated on occasion. In November of 1959, students of Hingham and Gibbsville presented a pageant for their area veterans on Veterans Day. They left no stone unturned in their hunt for data on the history and pioneers of their villages. Larry Shaver donned a costume and portrayed Mr. H.D. Hyde, the leader in Hingham’s egg industry. Young Shaver gave a rousing history explaining that the business was so big it shipped as many as 10 rail carloads of pickled eggs at one time.
Newspapers in the 1940s advertised that pickled eggs could be served like lollipops. Housewives were instructed to put the eggs on meat skewers adorned with whole cloves to make creative appetizers.
Pickled eggs were also touted by home economics instructors as great additions to Easter celebrations circa 1925. One recipe involved combining six hard-cooked eggs, two cups of vinegar, 24 cloves, salt, pepper and ground mustard. The vinegar was to be boiled, ingredients were added, and the mixture was poured over the eggs. After ten days, the eggs could be consumed. They were thought to be a nice accompaniment for a broiled steak.
Today, peanuts and pretzels are more commonplace in bars. But, rumors have it that there is always a fresh batch of pickled eggs made at the bar in Johnsonville each year, just in time for deer hunting. The gallon jug of eggs takes its place on the bar next to those holding ring bologna and beef jerky as part of a hunter’s lunch of champions.
Though pickled eggs have a horrible reputation today, falling somewhere between pickled pig’s feet and SPAM, for one brief moment in time, Hingham was the center of the universe when pickled eggs were the top of the world in cuisine.
Beth Dippel is executive director of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center.