MIDDLETOWN, Calif. – I was born into a family of very creative souls, and at no time during the year was this on more collective display than when we colored eggs for Easter.
We didn’t have much – there were no extravagant Easter presents and no Easter Sunday ham – but we went all out when it came to decorating eggs.
Old newspapers were spread to protect our rustic kitchen table and supplies were laid out – dozens of cups of dye, wax crayons, egg dippers, colored tissue paper and the like – and then we got to work. It was an hours-long process, and the joy derived from that endeavor was epic.
My mother, my four siblings and I developed all kinds of techniques that were honed and perfected through the years, and we were always very proud of the result. At least six dozen artistically dyed eggs were ready for hiding on Easter morning by the time we were done.
This year I was able to decorate eggs with my granddaughter, a happy process. She’s 4 and a half and not quite ready for the complex egg-dying techniques of my childhood, but much joy was borne out of our experience. She was proud to take home a dozen brightly colored eggs to show her mother after our session.
The tradition of decorating eggs is an ancient one, going back at least 60,000 years, as evidenced by engraved ostrich eggs found in Africa.
Decorated eggs, as well as representations of eggs in gold and silver, were placed in the graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians some 5,000 years ago.
In some early cultures, such as pre-dynastic Egypt, Mesopotamia and Crete, eggs symbolized death and rebirth, as well as kingship. It was a common symbol of fertility in others.
For early Christians, eggs represented the empty tomb of Jesus, from which they believed he was resurrected.
As Anne Jordan writes in her textbook, Christianity, “Easter eggs are used as a Christian symbol to represent the empty tomb. The outside of the egg looks dead but inside there is new life, which is going to break out. The Easter egg is a reminder that Jesus will rise from His tomb and bring new life.”
Some sources believe that the custom of the Easter, or Paschal, egg can be traced to the early Christians of Mesopotamia, eventually spreading from there to Eastern Europe and Siberia through the Orthodox Church and later into Europe through Catholic and Protestant churches.
Other scholars maintain that the tradition arose in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, when eggs were forbidden during Lent. They speculate that eggs became part of the Easter celebration when the Lenten fast was broken.
The tradition of dying eggs no doubt stems from ancient Christians who stained eggs red to symbolize the blood of Christ shed on the cross. This tradition of dying eggs red continues today in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.
A legend exists in Eastern Christianity about Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Christ, who is said to have brought cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus. They are purported to have miraculously turned bright red when she saw the risen Christ.
In Judaism, a hard-boiled egg representing festival sacrifice is part of the Passover Seder plate, and there is speculation that early Christians may have added to that tradition with the use of red dye to represent the blood of Christ.
Interestingly, Sephardic Jews of Spain prepare a braised egg dish called huevos haminados, in which patterns are created on the eggs by dying them with onion skins, tea leaves or coffee.
Some say that the Passover custom of hunting for the afikomen (a half piece of matzo) may be the precursor to the tradition of an Easter egg hunt.
Whenever and wherever the custom of the Easter egg originated and however it evolved, eggs have been part of Easter celebrations since the earliest times.
Just in case you’ve got a lot of hard-boiled eggs on hand this Easter, today’s recipe, curried egg salad stuffed into pasta shells, will help you use them up. These are meant to be eaten out of hand and are quite portable, so will do well on a picnic or as a passed hors d’oeuvre. Walnuts and parsley add texture and freshness to the mixture. Enjoy!
Pasta shells with curried egg salad
16 or 20 large pasta shells
6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 – 3 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste, if desired
1 large bowl filled with cold water and 2 tablespoons salad oil
Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until just tender, about 10 minutes. When cooked, remove with a slotted spoon to drain in a colander. Immerse pasta in cold water until completely cooled. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels if necessary.
Combine mayonnaise, curry powder and mustard. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Mix eggs, nuts and parsley with dressing. Stuff egg mixture into shells. Garnish with additional parsley, if desired.
Recipe by Esther Oertel.
Esther Oertel is a writer and passionate home cook from a family of chefs. She grew up in a restaurant, where she began creating recipes from a young age. She’s taught culinary classes in a variety of venues in Lake County and previously wrote “The Veggie Girl” column for Lake County News. Most recently she’s taught culinary classes at Sur La Table in Santa Rosa. She lives in Middletown.