Place a broad stew-pan of clean water over the fire till it boils, and set it level before the fire. Break the eggs separately into a plate or saucer, to ascertain if they are good, dropping them as you examine them into the boiling water. They must not be too much crowded, and there must be plenty of water to cover them well. Having put them all into the pan in this manner, let them remain till the whites become set; then place the pan again on the fire, and cook them as hard as you desire; they probably will be sufficiently hard by the time the water begins to boil. Raise them carefully from the water with an egg-slice, trimming the edges smoothly, and lay them separately upon small buttered toasts or broiled ham, arranging them neatly in the dish; sprinkle on a very little salt and black pepper; put on each a spoonful of melted butter, and send them up warm. They are eaten at breakfast. When prepared for the dinner table, omit the toasts or ham; serve them in a small deep dish, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and pour over the same melted butter. They are sent as a side dish to accompany poultry and game.
From The Kentucky Housewife by Lettice Bryan, Cincinnati, 1839
Comment: Most people today find poached eggs entirely difficult enough to make in a nonstick pan on top of a range with carefully calibrated temperature controls. Picture Mrs. Bryan and other women of her era accomplishing the same task over an open fire with cast-iron cookware–while at the same time getting the bread toasted, butter melted, ham broiled and sliced, and other dishes prepared– and you will begin to appreciate the back-breaking nature of the work required of a “housewife” in this time.
Between cooking, laundry, chopping wood for the fire, hauling water from the well, and nearly continual pregnancy, it is not to be wondered at that so many simply wore out and died in what would today be considered barely middle age.