Easter is a harbinger of spring. Our mountains are still clad in their winter coat of white, but days are longer, snow is beginning to melt, and maple sap is running.
One of the symbols of spring is the egg a symbol of fertility and new beginnings. The early Christian church adopted the egg as a symbol of Christ's Resurrection. A hatching chick coming out of the dark egg represents Christ emerging from the tomb on Easter morning. And the shape of the egg, with no beginning or end, is a symbol of eternity.
Today, Americans celebrate Easter with colored eggs, Easter egg hunts and Easter egg rolls. In the United States, more than 1 billion Easter eggs are hunted each year in parks, back yards, and on the White House lawn. In addition to real eggs, chocolate or candy eggs became popular in the 1800ds, and plastic eggs were introduced in the 1960s. More than a million plastic eggs are purchased each year for Easter.
The tradition of coloring eggs goes back many centuries, and has different cultural variations. Many ancient cultures, including Egyptians, Persians Greeks and Romans, used colored eggs to celebrate their spring festivals. In the Middle Ages, it was a common practice throughout Europe to paint eggs with new, fresh spring hues. The first written records of painted and decorated eggs used in Easter celebrations come from 13th century England. Account books of King Edward I (1239 1307) show that 450 colored and gold-leafed Easter eggs, costing 18 pence, were sent as gifts.
Today, traditions of colored eggs vary from culture to culture. Greeks dye eggs red to symbolize the saving blood of Christ. Germans color them green in honor of spring, and eat them on Maundy Thursday. In Poland, baskets of food including colored eggs are taken to church to be blessed by the priest on Holy Saturday, then eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday. In central Europe, eggs are blown out rather than boiled, the contents used in cooking. The fragile empty shells are painted, decorated with lace and ribbons, and hung on trees and bushes. Perhaps the most intricate egg designs are found in the Ukraine. Ukrainian pysanky are derived from the verb 'to write'. These beautiful decorations are made with a wax-resist (batik) method. Melted beeswax is applied to the fresh white egg. Designs are drawn in the wax with a sharp implement. When the egg is dipped in dye, an intricate pattern of lines and colors is created. This is done repeatedly, with different colors. The end result is a true work of art.
This year, instead of a kit, why not use natural ingredients to color your eggs? Many things in your kitchen, like vegetables or coffee grounds, produce vivid colors: beets give crimson red, blueberries are blue, red cabbage is purple, turmeric is yellow, coffee for brown, red onion skins for red; yellow onion skins for orange; purple grape juice for lavender; orange or lemon peels for light yellow red wine for burgundy, fresh greens like spinach or kale for green. To use these ingredients for dyes, add 4 cups of chopped fruit or vegetables or 1 Tablespoon of spice (like turmeric) to 4 cups of water. Add 2 Tablespoons white vinegar, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes. Strain the dye and cool slightly. Dip hard cooked eggs into the vegetable dye until the desired color is reached this usually takes just five to 10 minutes.
To create designs, wrap eggs with rubber bands for textured patterns, or draw lines using crayons. You can wet a leaf and apply to the egg, then wrap the egg tightly in a nylon stocking before placing in the dye, and the leaf imprint will remain on the egg when you unwrap. Or, make designs with melted wax from a candle; the dye won't stick to the wax. To give the finished product shine, use a cloth to apply a little lard or oil to the colored egg.
If you intend to eat the eggs your kids have colored, make sure they don't cook too long. Bring them to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and cook no more than eight minutes. This will give you eggs with fluffy, yellow yolks. There's even a web site for cooking eggs: www.howtohardboilanegg.com gives tips.
Hard-boiled eggs leftover from Easter festivities are simple and nutritious. With only 70 - 80 calories per egg, they are an excellent source of protein and high in essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthin, both critical carotenoids for healthy eyesight. Most of these healthy substances are found in the egg yolk, along with most of the egg's fat content.
Leftover hard cooked eggs from Easter festivities are quite versatile. Use them in recipes for egg salad or deviled eggs, for topping vegetable pies and green salads, for creating elaborate dips and pates. A mimosa is a delicate, pretty garnish made by grating eggs finely through a sieve. It is great on salads of fresh spring greens and on hot cooked vegetables like asparagus or Brussels sprouts. Salade Nicoise is a delicious blend of fresh dressed greens, had boiled eggs, cooked potatoes and steamed green beans. Or make a curry with rice, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, and a curry-flavored white sauce. Or make a casserole layering potatoes, cooked spinach, hardboiled eggs, and cheese sauce.
Pope Paul V (1605-21) used this prayer of blessing for eggs: "Bless, O Lord, we beseech you, these Your creatures of eggs, that they may become a wholesome sustenance to Your faithful servants, eating in thankfulness to You, on account of the Resurrection of Our Lord."
Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!
Ham, egg and spinach bake
This recipe uses up leftover Easter eggs and leftover ham from Easter dinner.
2 cups chopped cooked spinach (or 20 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained)
1 to 2 cups diced cooked ham
8 eggs, hardboiled
2 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Cheddar cheese
2 cups croutons or bread cubes
1/3 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Spray a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 2 cups chopped cooked spinach (or other cooked greens) on the bottom. Sprinkle with one or two cups finely diced ham. Peel the hardboiled eggs, cut in half, and arrange them in the spinach.
Prepare the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in the bottom of the saucepan. With a fork or wire whisk, blend in the flour. Cook, stirring, until bubbly (one or two minutes). While continuing to stir, pour in the milk. Stir in the grated cheese and a little salt and pepper, if you wish. Cook over medium low heat, stirring, until the sauce is thick and bubbly.
Pour cheese sauce over this. Top with 2 cups of croutons or stale bread cubes and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake 30 minutes at 375 to brown the bread and melt the cheese.
Potato and egg casserole
2 lbs. potatoes (approx. 5)
1 Tablespoon oil
1 cup(s) sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
4 eggs, boiled & sliced
2 tablespoon(s) dry bread crumbs
Cook eggs to hardboil, cool and peel.
Cook unpeeled potatoes in salted water - bring to a boil, reduce heat, cook until test done with a fork. Drain, cool slightly, and remove peels.
While potatoes and eggs are cooking, cook onion in oil on low heat about 15 minutes, until tender. Combine with sour cream, salt, pepper and paprika.
Cut potatoes into half inch slices. Mix with sour cream mixture.
Layer potatoes and eggs in buttered quart casserole.
Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and paprika.
Bake, uncovered, at 50 until slightly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Eggs on half shell
Here's another version of 'deviled eggs', slightly harder to make.
6 hard cooked eggs, unpeeled
1 / 4 cup butter, softened
1 / 2 cup finely minced chives
1 Tablespoon finely minced parsley
Salt & pepper to taste
Do not peel the eggs. With a very sharp knife, cut eggs, through the shell, in half lengthwise. This is the hard part. Gently, scoop out both yolk and white, leaving the shell intact. In food processor, mince the parsley and chives. Add the eggs, and mince. Blend in the soft butter and sour cream.
Place the mixture back in the shells. Melt butter in skillet; sprinkle some fine breadcrumbs on a plate. Working quickly, dip each egg in the breadcrumbs, then place in the hot butter and cook about a minute, to brown.
Serve hot, on a bed of fresh greens. Eat with a fork.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.