For thousands of years, eggs have symbolised rebirth and new beginnings. The colourful dyed eggs were exchanged during the rites of Spring in pre-Christian times. Adapted by the early Christians, they also became a symbol of the resurrection.
For those who observed Lent , eggs were one of the foods forbidden by the Church so it was a treat to have them again at Easter. During the tsar's reign in Russia, Easter was celebrated more elaborately than Christmas. Among the royal family, the custom of exchanging eggs was taken to the extreme by having jewelled "eggs" made by the goldsmith Carl Faberge.
Chocolate eggs probably appeared thanks to the industrial revolution when it became possible for companies such as Cadbury to manufacture large quantities of special sweets for special times, such as Easter.
The rabbit, another symbol of new life and fertility, no doubt jumped into the mix at this time to appear as the chocolate Easter bunny.
Easter coincides with Northern Hemisphere spring. It is a time in nature when nests of eggs are found hidden away and egg hunts merged into Easter traditions.
I also remember seeing in the window of the Queen Anne shop in Christchurch coloured chickens, dyed by injecting the eggs before hatching. Blue, pink and yellow chicks scrambling around in a window full of overdecorated icing eggs and chocolate goodies. Animal welfare and health authorities were apparently less strident in those days.
Naturally dyed eggs
While these eggs are decorative, they could be used in an Easter egg hunt, hidden around the house or garden and exchanged for something more edible when found.
1 In a large pan, cover the eggs with water and add some white vinegar and plain salt. Bring the water to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Add your natural dye materials and simmer for 20 mins or so.
2 Remove the eggs, dry on a paper towel and wipe over with vegetable oil to "polish "them.
3 For yellow, use tumeric; for red, chopped beetroot; blue, red cabbage (pre boil for 30 mins ); brown, use coffee grounds. You need to be liberal with the dying material to get a good colour.
Chinese tea eggs
These not only look good, you can eat them.
1 Fill a good-sized pot with water and add 3 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of Chinese five-spice powder, 1 star anise and a tea bag (any kind of plain black tea ).
2 Add 8 eggs and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes.
3 Remove and cool the eggs. Gently crack the egg shell all over without removing it.
4 Place the eggs back in the pan and bring back to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for an hour or so.
5 The flavours will infuse into the eggs and when peeled, the white will have a marbled appearance.
The good egg
Easter has always been a time for gifts so why not make a box of natural dyed eggs as an Easter decoration? Search second-hand or charity shops for vintage egg cups, knit an "egg warmer" hat for a present or give a carton of the best free-range eggs you can find.
An alternative is to remove the egg yolk and white from four egg shells and fill the shell with seed mix. Sprinkle cress seeds on to the mix and water well. In a few days you will have cress micro greens. Boil the remaining eggs, mash with some mayo and the cress and make egg-and-cress sandwiches.By Grant Allen