Thursday, June 12, 2008

thirsty thursday

Melissa wants to know about my worst culinary disaster. I'm stretching the category in order to tell this story. It does feature food, but not cooking.

When I was in high school, I worked for a friend of my mother. He owned an egg-processing plant and several thousand chickens. He also had some greenhouses, mostly with tomatos. I worked in the tomato greenhouses. I started at the beginning of the season, tilling the soil. Then my team used gigantic rolls of heavy plastic to wrap around the greenhouse frames. Then we planted thousands of tomato seedlings. Over the weeks we nurtured those seedlings, guiding them to grow up the wires to the ceiling, then suckering them (removing extra limbs that try to grow out of the joints), then fertilizing them by banging the guide wires, then removing the bottom leaves to allow the sun to get to the tomotos, then picking, grading, packing and shipping all the tomatos.

At the end of tomato season, my boss asked me if I would like to try something different. I needed the money so I said yes. He explained to me that one of the two ladies that he had candling eggs had varicose veins and needed to cut back on her work hours. If I could work 10 of her 40 hours, he could keep her on until he found someone to work the 10 hours permanently. My question was the same as yours - what the heck is candling eggs?

Candling eggs refers to holding an egg up in front of a candle flame to see the interior of the egg. You can see whether an embryo is growing inside. In an egg processing plant, the candling is done by having the eggs travel on a conveyer belt. In this case, two women stood, one on either side of the conveyer belt, and watched as a steady stream of eggs passed over a light that was shining up from underneath. There was a big black curtain that completely surrounded them to shut out all other light. As they spotted any eggs with any flaw (embryo, blood spot, crack, etc.), they removed them. These were the eggs that employees took home at the end of the shift.

I was instructed to stand next to one of the two ladies and observe. So I stepped up onto the platform and inside that black curtain and began to learn my new job. Those ladies were fast!!! The eggs traveled over the light at a pretty good clip. Each lady would remove the bad eggs as they traveled by and place them in a flat cardboard tray. Each tray held 24 eggs. When they had three full trays, they picked them up and set them on another conveyer belt, which whisked the trays away. After they felt I was trained, they gave me a tray and told me to start filling it.

I wasn't very fast, but soon I had my three trays full, which I told the ladies proudly. But I would have had to hand my three trays over the head of one lady, and there were too many bad eggs right then, so they told me to keep going. Soon I had four trays, which I told them. Keep going, they said. Then I had five trays stacked up, then six. Still they couldn't take them. As I turned back from adding a couple of eggs to my seventh tray, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the stack of trays move away from me a little. I turned back towards the stack. I can still picture those eggs, leaning away in slow motion and my mouth making that "O" shape as I reach in frustrating slow-motion to try to save the eggs - a futile attempt. SPLAT went the eggs on to the floor of the factory.

The entire processing plant shut down and the employees gathered around to see the huge mess that I had made of their week's worth of breakfasts. And even though it wasn't entirely my fault, the two ladies did absolutely nothing to save me. I did not return for a second day of candling eggs. At the time it was not funny, but now I laugh hysterically when I tell the story. But I wouldn't have dared laugh then. Those women would have beat my butt.

No comments: