Saturday, March 7, 2009

Painting, decorating, waxing and
colouring Easter Eggs

Easter eggs have been painted and decorated for so long that the precise origins of the tradition are lost in the mists of time. It's not clear where the idea arose, and it may well have originated in several places.

Eggs are a wonderful symbol of life, and spring, and were used in many pre-Christian spring celebrations.

This hub will discuss the traditions and history of egg decoration, and how to prepare, paint, dye and decorate your own eggs at home.

Easter Eggs in Christianity

The egg has been held to represent the resurrection, and the promise of re-birth through Jesus Christ. When dyed red, it also symbolises Christ's death on the cross.

In medieval Catholicism, eggs were a forbidden food during the Lenten Fast (hence making pancakes to use all your eggs up on Shrove Tuesday) and they are still banned during Lent in the Orthodox Christian Churches.

Many eastern European countries have a tradition of producing elaborately-decorated eggs for Easter.

Those which are taken to church are usually dyed red, and the more elaborate painted versions were kept for the home.The elaborate ones are not usually intended to be eaten, and many of the traditional dyes are not food-safe.

These eggs are real works of art. As well as the real eggs, there are often some painted wooden eggs, which are brought out each year to place in the middle of an Easter dinner table.

And, of course, there are also the famous Faberge eggs, created as mini-masterpieces for Easter presents.

Decorated eggs in other cultures

Ancient examples include the Persian spring festival of Norwooz, the New Year which was celebrated at the spring equinox. Decorated eggs were part of the festivities thousands of years ago.

Hard-boiled eggs are part of the Jewish Passover Seder a meal which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. They are eaten to symbolise new life, the hardness of Pharaoh's heart in Egypt, and sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. There are six other special symbolic foods which are eaten during the Passover Seder, and each is important.

Decorating your own Easter eggs

Raw eggs aren't good. They break, they smell. So you need to de-egg your shells before you start making them beautiful.

There are two ways – you can either hard-boil them, or you can blow them. If you really want your eggs to last, you should blow them, as hard-boiled eggs do go off (albeit more slowly than raw ones).

If your young children are getting involved, hard-boiled is almost certainly safer, as they are less likely to smash them!

Boiling eggs

What you need:

* egg
* saucepan

If you are going to paint or otherwise decorate them after boiling, just stick them in a saucepan of cold water, heat it to boiling, and boil for about 10 minutes. Don't stick the egg in boiling water, as it's likely to crack.

If you want to dye the eggs, dye and boil at the same time, so read on before getting your hot water out!

Blowing eggs

What you need:

* egg
* large needle, such as for darning or upholstering
* skewer
* bowl

The way to keep eggs longer, once painted, is to blow them. This means getting the yolk and white out of the egg, while leaving almost all the shell itself intact for painting.

(I feel as if I'm teaching my Granny to suck eggs.......)

Take your egg in one hand, and a large darning needle in the other. Then make a small hole in one end with the needle, trying not to crack the shell around the hole.

It's best to scratch the point where you intend to make your hole gradually, rather than go in all guns blazing. Don't put the egg down on the kitchen counter to make the hole, as it will break.

Make another hole at the other end of the egg, and widen both holes a little, carefully. The one at the bottom should be a little larger than the one on top.

Then break the contents of the egg up to make it easier to get it out. Push a skewer in through one of your holes, and pierce the yoke.

Place a bowl under your egg, and taking a deep breath, blow at a consistent rate through the hole on the top. The contents of the egg gradually come out through the bottom hole, ready to be scrambled for supper later.

Once the egg is empty, fill it with cold water, swish the water around, and let it out of the bottom hole. Do this 2-3 times, to clean the inside. Don't use hot water, as this might bake some of the egg white on to the inside of the shell.

Put your egg in a pre-heated oven for about 10 – 15 minutes. This both dries it out and prepares it to be painted.

This is the traditional way to blow eggs. Other people appear to be able to use various impressive and complicated methods which don't involve actually blowing. I've not tried them myself, as the normal way works fine for me, but the link below explains a couple of ways of trying it.

Dying Eggs

What you will need:

* egg
* saucepan
* either prepared, bought egg dyes OR food suitable for creating your own egg dyes

Your egg should be at room temperature when you start to dye it, not cold from the fridge
Commerical Easter Egg Dyes

These are available to buy, in either powder or liquid form. Most of them are used hot, so you dye the egg and boil it at the same time. Some are used cold, so the egg is hard-boiled first, then soaked in the dye after it is cooked.

The specific instructions for each type of dye depends on the make and colour.

DO check that the dye is food-safe - some are not, and those eggs should only be used for decoration, and not eaten.

Making your own dyes from food stuffs

This is great fun, and there are a number of different foods you can use to dye your eggs different colours. Some examples are:

* blue - use red cabbage or blueberries
* red - use beetroot, cranberries or cherries
* brown - use tea or coffee
* yellow / orange - use onion skins, tumeric, or cumin
* green - use spinach

I've tried all these at various times, but tend to use mostly blue and green. Red cabbage gives a beautiful purple-blue colour.

Take your food stuff, and don't be stingy with it. In the case of spices, herbs or food, chop roughly, put it in a saucepan, and cover with water. See the photo to the right of this section for a sample of red cabbage I used recently.

Bring the pan to the boil, and then leave it to simmer for about 45 minutes with the lid on, checking from time to time that there is enough water and the mixture isn't sticking.

Leave the pan to cool for a couple of hours (or longer, no harm is done if it's left overnight) and then sieve the mixture, so you are left with coloured water.

If you are using tea or coffee, brew up a very strong mixture, and leave it to cool.

Put the cool coloured water back on the stove, and add your egg or eggs. Bring the pan to the boil, and then boil for at least 10 minutes.

Leave the eggs to cool in the pan, for up to about 8 hours. The longer you leave them, the darker the colour will be.

Then leave them to dry, and your eggs are Easter Eggs!

Variations on plain dying

There are various things you can do when dying your eggs to vary the pattern on them, such as:

* add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to your cool dye as you put the eggs in, this leads to a marbling effect;
* paint beeswax on the egg, and the parts under it will not be dyed;
* tie the egg in a bit of old tights, to get a pattern

Painting an egg

What you will need:

* paint brushes and paints; OR
* paint brushes and food colouring; OR
* felt tip pens

The only limit here is your imagination!

Young children can finger paint, or wield brushes or felt-tip pens.

Older children, and those with more artistic ambitions, will benefit from fine paintbrushes. These don't need to be expensive, and really add to the detail you can put on an egg.

As for paints, you can use watercolours, but that does take a degree of skill. Most people will probably have more fun with quick-drying acrylic paints, and the colours also tend to be more intense.

It's also possible to paint with food colouring, if you want edible eggs. And a rather nifty new invention is food colouring pens, so you can draw rather than paint, and still eat your eggs later!
Other decorating techniques

You can also add to your eggs by using stickers, glue and glitter, cut out shapes (cut out yourself, or bought ready-made) or stensils. These can be used in conjunction with dyes and paints, or on their own.

After all that, enjoy your beautiful Easter Eggs!