March 28 Friday After making my bed &c went to
mending Mr Ames coat which kept me busy till past
nine Oclock. A[u]gustus brought me 50 eggs
for which I paid 50 cts Mother returned from
Mr Torreys about ten Oclock. Mrs Witherell
came in at 4 Oclock and staid untill 5 Oclock and
finished stiching the ninth bosom Mrs Buck
and Sarah called the Evening Weather very pleasant
A penny an egg, or 12 cents a dozen. Not so today.
That Evelina bought her eggs tells us right away that the Ameses didn’t keep chickens. If they had, Evelina would never have paid for something she could get for free. These eggs came by way of the Gilmores, either from Augustus who may have been living on a property that had chickens or, possibly, from Augustus’s father, Alson, out on the family farm.
Poultry seldom appeared at the Ames’s dinner table, or at least Evelina didn’t mention it if and when it was served. Beef and pork were the mainstays of their diet, not chicken. Turkey and goose was served, but only on special occasions. The larger animals, once slaughtered, could be preserved in multiple ways, and could stretch to feed more people. Chicken didn’t offer as much variability, although it was acknowledged to be “generally healthful” and for the sick, “a most agreeable and nutritious diet.”*
In the winter, particularly, chicken as a meal was in short supply all over New England. Chickens were vulnerable to the harsh winter of Massachusetts and many people simply didn’t keep any. Come spring, however, they were a welcome change. A “spring chicken” was something young and fresh. An old laying hen, on the other hand, once past her prime, was something to be put in a pot and stewed.
It follows that eggs, which were important in cooking and baking, were in demand. Thus we find Evelina procuring several dozen for her kitchen.
*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841.