April has always been a special time for me. It's a month of springtime, Easter and my birthday. When I was a kid, my mother created elaborate Easter Egg Hunts for my birthday party—complete with golden and silver eggs which won prizes for those fortunate enough to find them. Being an artist, Mom would spend hours creating beautifully decorated and dyed eggs, ones too gorgeous too eat but then again, it was the vulnerability of these treasures that made them even more valuable. Together, we would dye the eggs in multiple colors which blended and overlapped like the spectrum in a rainbow.
Easter itself is, of course, a Christian holiday but the symbolism of the egg is deeply rooted in the pagan rituals of Springtime—celebrating the rebirthing or hatching of Mother Nature's offspring. Whatever one's religion (or lack of it) may be, the budding of greens and bursting of flowers naturally makes people want to be outdoors, frolicking and cavorting, succumbing to the joys of Spring Fever. And what better way to do it than with an Easter egg hunt? Even our nation's Capital gets into the act, providing an annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. There's also a special Easter Egg Hunt for Blind Children on the grounds of the Washington Monument, complete with beeping eggs that can be exchanged for prizes.( of course, there's no way a publication of our identity could resist having its own Virtual Easter eGG Hunt, so if you're a member of AOL, drop in at keyword: eGG for our annual service-wide hunt.)Actually, the various customs of dying or decorating eggs finds predominance in Europe. Until 1784, the French forbid the eating of eggs during Lent. Eggs collected during this time were either hatched or preserved for eating at Easter. After having been dipped in wax or melted fat, the eggs would then be decorated as an enticement for children to eat them. Royalty also became the recipients of gilded or painted eggs. The King of France customarily received a basket of such eggs after the Easter services, then gave them away to his court. As Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat explains in her History of Food:
"The painters of these eggs, pensioners of the Louvre, sometimes made them into delightful miniature works of art. Faberge's eggs, even more sumptuous and given in the Tsar's family, were presents along the same lines. In France, the biggest egg laid in Holy Week was the sovereign's by right. It was presented in the splendor of its nakedness, decorated only with a handsome ribbon, preferably red, a colour signifying good luck and glory in European cultures. The chocolate egg of later times still wears a ribbon."
The Easter Hare, or Bunny, as we know him, first appears in 17th Century Germany and France, although foxes and birds have also been credited with dispersing the eggs. Besides the hunt, amusements of other kinds have developed around the spring arrival of Easter eggs, including egg rolling, egg races and egg fights, the most famous of which occured between a fun-loving bishop and his parishioners during the Middle Ages. After cleaning themselves up, a communal feast was prepared using, as you might have guessed, eggs.
The Chinese also have a reverence for the egg and its unique composition. Instead of using the European techniques of decorating, the Chinese method involves steeping the eggs in tea or burying them in aromatic elements, resulting in beautiful veined patterns and unusual flavors. One of the most delightful ways of decorating eggs for posterity is to blow them out of their shells, literally. Using a pin, carefully punch a small whole in the narrow end of a whole egg. Then, using the same pin punch out a slightly larger opening on the other side. Place your lips in a tight seal around the smaller hole and blow with all your might, holding the egg over a bowl. The entire inside of the egg will magically extrude, leaving just the whole shell virtually intact. The egg shell can then be washed, dried and painted or decorated in wild and creative ways. As a kid, I used to cover the shell with concentric rings of exotic feathers, sequins, ribbons and other materials. My mother would be even more creative: she would dye or paint a light base color on the egg, then she would drizzle rubber cement in random streaks over the surface, a la Jackson Pollack. She would then add another color on top of the surface, wait for that to dry, and finally rub off the rubber cement (which removes easily). The result is a two-toned egg with a wild pattern of contrasting colors, worthy of any artistic or tabletop display.
Amy Handler, pastry chef of the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, CT., has pursued her own method of Easter egg decoration. Using Pastillage and food colors, she paints them with images ranging from a Walt Disney-type of bunny to exotic patterns reminiscent of Russian lacquered boxes. These and other creations have earned her the Gold Medal and two Silver medals of the French Government at the NYC Salon of Culinary Arts, hosted by the Societe de Patissiers Francais La St. Michel. Unless you have extraordinary culinary and artistic talents, don't try making these at home.
But enough said of the pleasures of Easter egg decorating—abandon your computers now and go play. Blow out some eggshells, then make an omelet out of the interior; boil them whole, dye them and then eat them in egg salad (as our former columnist Steve Holzinger would suggest); paint them, hide them and hunt them up for lunch...Or simply just go out and celebrate the exultant joys of spring—after all, this time comes but once a year and the miracles it holds—of creation and rebirth—are too wondrous and extraordinary to miss. So shut down now and get out there. The Easter Bunny is waiting.
Illustrations by Alma Shon
This page first published in 1998.
Copyright © 1998, 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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