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Decorating Easter Eggs

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 7.33.22 AMIt’s Easter and time to color eggs. Maybe this year we’ll decorate eggs some way other than a water dye solution. Before I could even explain different ways, my young Grand asked, “Why do we dye Easter eggs and can’t we just color them?”

The practice of giving Easter eggs began as a Christian tradition. A red dyed egg symbolized the blood of Christ and the hatching of an egg symbolized the resurrection.  The tradition carried through the years to different colors and processes.

Ukrainian etched eggs, especially those designs made using the scrimshaw method, intrigue me most. The inside of an egg is blown out (I’m not sure I can master that) and then the shells are lightly carved using a high-speed drill and a fine pointed knife. India ink is applied and the excess wiped away, showing intricate designs.

A design on a Ukrainian egg is created by applying wax to the egg before dying it. The wax protects the shell from the dye and layered designs are created. Usually detailed designs with many colors are used.

For a whimsical look, eggs can be decorated as heads of people or characters with painted faces, using permanent markers or brightly colored crayons. Yarn for hair and ribbon and felt fabric for collars can be attached with glue.

While researching methods, I came across the most valuable Easter eggs ever created. Around the late 1800s, jeweled Faberge eggs were crafted as Easter gifts for the families of Russian czars. Only 65 were known to be made. Today most are housed in museums and each egg is worth millions of dollars. A Faberge ‘style’ egg, for as little as $20 is available, but don’t expect real jewels.

I’ll fall back on the way I first colored eggs with my mom, then my children, and then my Grands. A PAAS dye kit. In the 1880s, the PAAS Dye Company began selling egg dying packets. William Townley worked in a drugstore in Newark, New Jersey and often concocted recipes for home use. He developed small colored tablets, in spring colors, to be mixed with water and white vinegar, and he sold the first packets of five colors for 5 cents. The word PAAS comes from Passen, the word for Easter that was used by Townley’s Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors.

Today’s basic PAAS kit is about $4 and for $20 deluxe kits are available. Neon colors. Emojis. Swirls. Marbled effect. Glitter. Spacemen. Crazy bird. Decals. Stickers. More choices than my Grands and I need. But we’ll improvise.

So we have a plan. I’ll boil a few dozen eggs, buy the basic PAAS kit, and collect a few other things. Markers and glue. Ribbon and yarn. Glitter and sequins. Wax crayons. My Grands and I won’t create valuable art like the Faberge eggs or priceless scrimshaw eggs. And we certainly won’t spend the hours required for a Ukrainian masterpiece. We’ll talk about the first red dyed eggs. We’ll have fun and make some memories.  That’s why we decorate Easter eggs.

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Easter Egg Hunt

 

easter-egg-hunt-sign-13369720When I was a child, I was as eager to go to church on Easter Sunday as I was on Christmas Eve when Santa gave me a peppermint candy cane. I wore new clothes on Easter morning:  a pastel colored fancy dress, patent leather shoes, white socks with ruffles, and white gloves.  Mother made sure that my entire Easter outfit was brand new, but wearing new clothes wasn’t why I was excited.

 

On Easter at Byrdstown First Christian Church there was a big Easter Egg Hunt immediately after the preacher’s last amen. During the church service, several men hid eggs.  All hard-boiled eggs that church members had boiled, dyed, and decorated.  I didn’t hear a word of the service – not the hymns, prayers, scripture reading, or sermon.  During the long hour between 11:00 and noon, I squirmed and wiggled and stretched my neck to look out the open windows to see where Daddy was hiding the Easter eggs.

 

As soon as church was over, I grabbed my Easter basket from under the pew where Mother had put it so I couldn’t touch it during the service.  I ran out the church front door as quickly as I could.  I ran right past the preacher without shaking his hand. All of us children clutched the handles of our empty Easter baskets and lined up on the asphalt parking lot at the edge of grass.

 

On one side of the church, eggs lay on top of the grass in plain sight for the little kids to find, and the other side was divided into two sections for two age groups. Very few eggs were hidden for the teenagers because they were beyond hunting for eggs, but they were enticed to look for a prize egg.  Those of us in the elementary age group had the most eggs to find. We stood poised and ready, knowing that for every colored egg we could barely see there were many more hidden.   And when someone shouted, “Ready, set, GO!” we kids ran helter skelter gathering eggs that were hidden in tall tufts of grass, under shrubs, among the exposed roots of tall oak trees, and along a grown up fencerow.

 

We hunted until someone found the prize egg, a hard-boiled goose egg wrapped in gold paper, and the adults in charge declared that every egg had probably been found.   We children counted the number of eggs in our baskets because money prizes were given for the number of eggs found – the most eggs, the least, and none.  And the person in each age group who found the prize egg got a bright shiny silver dollar.  I found the prize egg only once—inside the downspout of the gutter.

 

I took home all the eggs that I found.  Eggs that other church members had boiled and dyed, and I hunted those eggs again in our backyard as many times as I could get my mother or daddy or brother to hide them.  There weren’t any prizes at home.  I hunted just for fun after I’d taken off my fancy new Easter clothes.

Easter Eggs

 

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Brown eggs don’t dye pretty colors like white eggs – except for purple.  Brown eggs dipped in purple water turn a beautiful dark wine color.  Most colors – yellow, green, blue – made brown eggs look like a clod of dirt.  Granny’s chickens laid brown eggs and Mom certainly never considered taking only wine colored eggs to the church Easter egg hunt.  That’s why, when I was a kid, Mom bought white eggs to color.

 

Each church family took colored eggs for the egg hunt.  On Saturday afternoon before Easter Mom boiled several dozen eggs – some white from the grocery store and some brown from Granny’s henhouse.  Mom and I, and my brother if Mom could rope him into helping, (teen-age boys think they’ve outgrown such childhood activities) colored each egg.  We used the Paas dye – tablets that dissolve in water.

 

Mom didn’t like plain one-color eggs.  We did half blue and half green eggs and tri-color eggs.  We’d color an egg all yellow and then dip each end in blue or red.  Using a paraffin pencil we’d draw designs that wouldn’t absorb color before dunking an egg in a color solution.  We decorated with glitter and sequins —anything to make an egg look fancy.

 

We colored a few brown eggs in red and purple liquid dyes and used crayons to draw designs on most.  Mom drew rabbits and simple flowers.  My favorite way to color brown eggs was with multi-colored stripes and zigzag lines and circles.  We spent what seemed like all afternoon sitting together at the kitchen table.

 

I dyed eggs with my children and now with my Grands.  Next week I’ll throw a plastic tablecloth over my kitchen table and bring out boiled eggs and coloring supplies.  The box of Paas dye hasn’t changed – except for the price – in 50 years.  And I’m glad.  There’s something magical about dropping a small colored tablet into three tablespoons of white vinegar and making brilliant colors, before diluting the solution with a half-cup of water.

 

And ever year, someone asks, “Why do you have to add the vinegar?”  Because the directions say to isn’t a good enough answer.  The vinegar creates an acid solution so that the colors bond with the calcium in the shell. And sometimes there’s more ‘why’ questions.

 

I know that plastic eggs are cheaper than real eggs and prizes or candy can be put inside each plastic one, but I like real Easter eggs.  The ones you boil and color.  And in the process, it’s a time to talk and laugh and create.  It’s not just about coloring eggs; it’s about the shared experience.

 

A few days ago, my seven-year-old Grand asked, “Gran, when are we going to color Easter eggs?”  I like that.  She didn’t ask, “Are we going to color Easter eggs?”   She asked, “When?”  Then she said, “I’m going to draw designs with crayons on some.”   Good, because I have some brown eggs to be colored and I don’t like Easter eggs that look like a dirt clods.

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Now is the Time to Eat Easter Eggs

deviled-easter-eggs3  According to my mother, now would be the time to eat Easter eggs.  Easter Eggs that had been hard-boiled and colored for Easter Egg Hunts.  Now, three or four days after Easter.

Long before the days of plastic eggs and cellophane wrapped candy eggs, Easter eggs were real eggs.  Real chicken eggs.  Eggs that my granny gathered from her chicken house.  On the Saturday before Easter, Mom boiled two to three dozen eggs in an aluminum pan.  As soon as they were cool, she and I colored them using a PAAS coloring egg kit and crayons.  And as soon as the eggs were colored, we had our first Easter egg hunt.

I’m sure when my brother, my only sibling five years older than me, was young, he hunted Easter eggs, but my memory only goes back to Mom and me taking turns hiding and hunting eggs in our backyard.  The backyard where our dog ran and played and slept in his doghouse.  Where my brother rode his horse right up to the within a few feet of the house and tied her to a tree.  Where everyone walked every day.  That’s where we hid Easter eggs on the ground, under shrubs, and in bushes.

Mom chose the best-colored eggs to take to the church Easter egg hunt that immediately followed the 11:00 Sunday service.  And after that hunt, I brought home a basket of eggs – mostly eggs that other church members had boiled and colored.  So by Sunday afternoon, we had at least three-dozen Easter eggs – some from our house and some from the church egg hunt.

What to do with all those eggs?  Mom and I hid and hunted, then hid and hunted again and again and again.  Until mid-week, when she declared that it was time to eat some of the eggs and put the rest in the refrigerator, while they were still good.  Still good – as in not crushed or too dirty.  Eggs that had not been refrigerated since they’d been boiled on Saturday.  Eggs that had rolled around in grass and weeds.

Mom’s decision called for a sorting process.  Eggs without cracked shells were put in the refrigerator.  Those with cracked shells were eaten first.  A boiled egg with a cracked shell had rivers of color – just like on a map – that matched its shell color.  I’d sit on the back porch, tap an egg on the on concrete floor, shell it, and eat it.  Hand to mouth, with a few sprinkles of salt.

Supper included deviled eggs.  I chose the one I wanted to eat by the outside rim of color on the white.  A blue or pink rim, certainly not yellow or green.  During the next week, Mom served boiled eggs for breakfast and chicken salad sandwiches for lunch.  No egg was wasted.  And none ever went bad in the refrigerator.

Recently, I was told that boiled eggs should be refrigerated two hours after being cooked.  Maybe that’s because today’s eggs aren’t gathered in Granny’s chicken house.

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