So hot you can fry an egg on the sidewalk? Whose idea was that, anyway?
(MCT) — When a heat wave strikes, the only thing sure to rise faster than the mercury is the hyperbole. But where did that "so hot, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk" thing come from?
The earliest known reference to this cliche culinary claim appeared in the June 11, 1899, edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to the Library of Congress, which also cites a later mention in the Los Angeles Times of Oct. 5, 1933.
A photo of two women taken June 14, 1929, shows one of them holding what could be a fried egg, above a skillet on a concrete wall in Washington. The photo is titled "Women frying eggs near U.S. Capitol," but it's unclear whether the eggs were cooked there -- if at all. And besides, it's a wall, not a sidewalk.
Alas, the hot and hungry soul who initially posited the idea of egg-pavement preparation remains a mystery.
More importantly, successfully cooking an egg on the sidewalk is unlikely -- even in temperatures as hot as Chicago's July 5 record high of 103 degrees Thursday. But that hasn't stopped morning zoo disc jockeys, YouTube videographers and even newspaper reporters from trying.
"An egg needs a temperature of 158 degrees F to become firm," says the Library of Congress' Everyday Mysteries Web page on the topic. "In order to cook, proteins in the egg must denature (modify), then coagulate, and that won't happen until the temperature rises enough to start and maintain the process."
Organizers of the Sidewalk Egg Frying Contest in the northwestern Arizona gold mining town of Oatman say they've tried at noon every July 4 since 1991. With typically high heat and low humidity, Oatman gives the eggs an advantage. The competitors have an advantage too, as they're allowed to use strategic aids like foil, mirrors and magnifying glasses (no blowtorches). But none of the 15 entrants succeeded in Wednesday's contest, marred by rain and unseasonably low temperatures below 100 degrees. Heck, it was hotter and sunnier here!
A YouTube search of "fry egg on sidewalk" turns up more than 200 videos of such attempts, plus hundreds more for "fry egg on car," "fry egg on dashboard," etc.
Even Tribune reporter Bill Hageman gave it a try, on a newly paved street in far west suburban Sugar Grove in 2001, but he didn't stop at eggs. Bacon, MandMs and crayons were among 10 items -- edible or not -- that Hageman put to the test as his thermometer read 120 degrees that day.
"Our experiment in 2001 was a bit of a letdown," Hageman conceded Thursday. "We expected sizzling bacon and a perfect egg, but didn't come close.
"In retrospect, I think we were aiming too high. We should have started with a dollop of ice cream and a cube of butter and worked our way up."