April: it’s the season of hard-boiled eggs. We’re steadily eating – I almost typed “eagging” – our way down the ample supply of Easter eggs. Luckily – or unluckily – when your wingman is a voluble, handsy two-and-a-half-year-old, your round dozen of eggs will certainly get slimmed down with a few sacrificial-lambs. He cracks raw eggs with a cheerfully violent alacrity, and hard-boiled eggs are only partly protected against his onslaught.
It got me thinking about Easter eggs: why and how we came to dye them, all the proliferating variations in their looks, their collective trending towards maximal twee-ness, and why I prefer the imperfectly dyed weirdness that only a heedless kid can produce. Shall we?
Let’s start with nature. What determines whether eggshells come out brown, white or speckled-blue? The Kitchn’s answer is both tidy and remarkably literal:
In general, white-feathered chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs, and reddish-brown-feathered chickens with red earlobes lay brown eggs. There are also breeds that lay less commonly found blue eggs and speckled eggs.
They proceed to crack a few other lurking egg-myths, too. No, brown eggs aren’t harder or automatically higher-quality – although they do tend, as a group, to be larger, which accounts for their elevated average price.
What about the varying colors of egg yolks? My own book ROY G. BIV solves this conundrum – a more salient worry to cooks who use color as a proxy for deliciousness:
In a word: feed. If hens eat feeds rich in carotenoids, their egg yolks pop out a carroty orange. The chicken-feed rainbow extends further: Alfafa meal and yellow corn yield a burnt-yellow yolk, wheat and barley a pale-straw shade, and white corn the faintest yellow of all.
Pale, unadorned eggs fascinate me – as I suspect they do anyone whose fingers itch at an expanse of empty canvas, screen or paper. And the urge to dye them is a worldwide vernal-equinox tradition, only glancingly connected to Easter. Huffington Post gives a compact history of Easter egg dyeing, from Iranians decorating eggs for Nowruz, their New Year that falls during spring, or the Ukrainian tradition of ornate egg decoration for Orthodox Easter.
HuffPo shares some (likely apocryphal) tie-ins between the quiet pleasure of eating hard-boiled eggs and the symbolic import of Easter. For instance: cracking the shell is likened to rolling back the boulder shielding Christ’s tomb. More pertinently, Lent forbids most observant Christians from eating meat, including eggs – so that first Easter egg, much like a post-partum mother’s first raw oyster, represents a return to old sinful dietetic normalcy.
Also delightful are the many curious expressions involving eggs in English. I’ve always been partial to a low-rotation saying: “to ham-and-egg it”, meaning to throw something together in a slap-dash but high-spirited way. Two other new sayings I gleaned from Brownielocks: to “want egg in your beer” means to feel you’re entitled to some special treatment or advantage. Similarly, a “curate’s egg” suggests a delicate way of damning with faint praise.
I’m a sucker for unreally beautiful Easter egg decoration. While I don’t marvel at the twee or baroque varieties, I do like a handsome modernist take on this universal, quixotic little canvas. This year I’m ga-ga for a mini-craze on Pinterest: taking a fresh Sharpie or fine-black pen to your eggs. Behold!
Also gorgeous for the minimalists: dip-dyeing white eggs in super-saturated hues, much like the CMYK eggs I praised so many Print posts ago.
But now for a hearty defense of very haphazard egg-dyeing. My son is headlong in a beautiful and destructive style. He barrels through life, caroming from thing to marvelous thing; his tufted, carroty hair somehow animates this activity to a vibrating extreme.
Yet he’s also capable of surprising delicacy. When we dyed Easter eggs together this year, he cracked plenty and was mightily pleased to dunk and re-dunk them into whichever color combos tickled him. I only restrained him slightly (split-screen to me patiently mopping up puddles of temporary gorgeousness all over the counter and floor). And this very heedlessness produced some weirdly damn handsome eggs. Here are my favorites:
Here’s to cracks, irregularities, jagged lines and fortuitous accident. Happy spring, and happy abundant egg-eating.