Ovenproof folk art yields fluffy baked eggs

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yumachigama’s egg baker ceramic pots
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Restaurateur Haruna Hirayama shows off an egg made in an egg baker in Matsue.

The Hokkori Shokudo Tsunagarune restaurant stands neatly along the river in the Tamatsukuri Onsen hot springs area of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture. There, the restaurant owner uses a locally made ceramic utensil called an “egg baker.” Warm brown in color, the plump little pot fits easily in one hand. The fact that it’s a tad different from a frying pan makes it fun.

The restaurant owner, Haruna Hirayama, 37, said she grew up enjoying eggs prepared in the diminutive earthenware pot.

At her eatery, she cracked an egg into the pot and slowly heated it in a toaster oven. The ceramic item can also be used on a stove or in a microwave. Hirayama said one of the joys of the egg baker is that she can put the pot on a serving plate and eat the egg while it is still warm.

“The egg is a lot fluffier than if I had cooked it in a frying pan,” Hirayama said.

I had to give it a try.

The sweet scent of the egg wafted in the air as I leaned toward the pot. Yellow yolk flowed out when I cut into the middle of the egg with a spoon. I sprinkled soy sauce on top and took a bite. The gentle taste made me smile.

British influence

The egg baker was made in Matsue at a pottery called Yumachigama that incorporates the Fujina ceramics style created in 1922.

As part of the mingei folk craft movement, started by prominent thinker Soetsu Yanagi at the end of the Taisho era (1912-1926), famous potters including Kanjiro Kawai and Bernard Leach visited to see Fujina ceramics.

Leach, a British potter, visited the pottery seven times starting in 1934.

“When our pottery wasn’t selling very well, Leach said we should use the local earth, which is heat-resistant, to make our wares,” said Shuji Fukuma, 79, who is the third-generation co-owner of Yumachigama. “And that’s how we came to create the egg baker earthenware.”

The egg baker design takes a page from a British style called “slipware” — wherein a slurry of wet clay is applied to slightly hardened pottery before firing — with the addition of a floral motif painted inside the pot.

Multipurpose vessel

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yosuke Fukuma, left, stands next to his father Shuji at the Yumachigama pottery.

Fukuma’s father, Takashi, began selling egg bakers in earnest after World War II. As eggs were a luxury at the time, the egg baker initially did not sell well. However, the utensil grew more popular as eggs eventually appeared more often on the nation’s tables.

Leach had an influence on other potteries in Shimane Prefecture, and egg bakers are beloved throughout the prefecture. Today, the utensil serves as the face of Fujina ceramics.

As more people become familiar with egg bakers, their use has increasingly diversified.

“The pot is great not just for eggs,” one person who had purchased an egg baker said. “I can use it for steaming or frying food, so it’s quite useful.”

Yumachigama provides ideas for recipes using the pot beyond egg dishes as well, such as shrimp ajillo and macaroni gratin.

“The way we make egg bakers hasn’t changed since Leach, but changing times have brought about various uses for the ceramic,” said Yosuke Fukuma, 47, the eldest son and fourth-generation co-owner of the pottery who works alongside his father Shuji.

Though the vessel may be simple and small, egg bakers bring a splash of color to the dining table and everyday life.

Yumachigama’s egg baker comes in a set that includes a pot, lid and serving plate. The large size is ¥4,290, while a smaller one is ¥3,960.