The mysteries of a cast-iron classic.

Maybe you knew it as “eggs in toast.” “Eggs in a hole,” or “eggs in a frame.” Or perhaps the more common but still curious “toad in a hole,” or “frog in a pond.” But whatever your family called it, at some point in your life, you ate this egg dish of many names.

And wherever you grew up, be it on the Chesapeake Bay or Bayou, it was always the same simple recipe: butter in a pan, a slice of white bread, its center cut out, and an egg, any egg, cracked and fried inside.

But after all the generations it’s been passed down, after all the kitchens in which it’s been cooked, and all the tables and countertops and laps on which it’s been eaten, the question remains: which came first?

Though, with most of these colloquialisms spread by word-of-mouth, and with very little about them saved to history, it looks like we might never know 

A few things we do, predominantly from pop culture: the lesser-known “gashouse eggs” was likely derived from the German word gasthaus, for an inn or country home, and it was mentioned the 1941 Betty Gable film, Moon Over Miami. A few years earlier, the even-lesser-known “Guy Kibbee Egg” was dubbed for the early actor of the same name, who ate said eggs in the 1935 Mary Jane’s Pa, before going on to star in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Of course, if we had our druthers, the Oscar would go to a cameo in the 1987 cult classic, Moonstruck, starring Cher and Olympia Dukakis, who fries up a delectable-looking version with roasted red peppers and olive oil. Known as uova fritte nel pane in Italy, it graced many an Italian-American plate in the first half of the 20th century.

Still, we may never know the nativity of, let alone namesake behind, “one-eyed Jack,” or “one-eyed Pete,” or exactly why it would ever be called a “cowboy egg.” And whether “Rocky Mountain Toast” was dubbed in Colorado, Montana, or Wyoming.

To make matters even more confusing, “egg-in-a-basket” and “egg-in-a-nest” are also common names for those baked egg-hash brown breakfast cups that consume the pages of Pinterest. And the aforementioned amphibian appellations are actually more truly a British dish of sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding.

“Egg-with-a-hat,” which appeared in Fannie Farmer’s lauded Boston Cooking School Cookbook, starting in the 1890s? Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Maybe, in lieu of any legendary origin stories, the better question is: what’s in a name, anyways?

Perhaps—whether it’s served with white or wheat or sourdough, with its middle cut out by a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter or whatever you have on hand, with yolks as bright as a canary or dark as an oriole, topped with just salt and pepper or hot sauce or Worcestershire or pimento cheese, as done by those readers in the comment section of The New York Times’ recipe—this pan-toasted-bread-with-a-fried-egg-inside should simply be known as the great unifier.

Even with dozens of names, these mystery eggs continue to comfort us across centuries and cultures, and whether they’re eaten in a city walkup or over a country sink or outside in the mountain air, they always taste like wherever we came from—and like that first time we had them, all those years ago.

They might simply need no language, as all that’s really required is a hot cast iron, some bread, and fresh eggs. A spatula doesn’t hurt either.

After all, for most cooks, silence—albeit a few oohs and ahhs—is the greatest form of flattery, anyways.

October 21, 2019 — Dennis Powell

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