An embarrassing intro to Easter eggs

Even though I was raised as a completely non-observant Jew–the only holiday we celebrated at home was Chanukah–that doesn’t mean I knew anything about the surrounding Christian culture.

Christmas and Easter simply weren’t on my radar until I got to first grade. And then the learning curve was a little steep.

In the spring of my first-grade year, the students were told to bring in a hard-boiled egg to be dyed.

Brown eggs don’t dye!

My mother must have been as clueless as I was about Easter eggs, because she sent me to school with a hard-boiled brown egg. Which turned an even muddier brown after being immersed in the dye pot, unlike the pretty pastel greens, pink, blues and purple hues on everyone else’s formerly white eggs. My classmates had a good laugh at my expense.

When I was in first grade it didn’t occur to me to wonder what eggs have to do with a holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. But the connection is actually stronger than it may at first seem.

Of course eggs are a symbol of spring, fertility and rebirth used in many religions. We Jews include an egg on our Passover seder plates.

Ancient cultures often decorated eggs,  so early Christians were probably repurposing existing pagan customs when they used the egg as a symbol of Christ’s tomb – it looks like a stone, but gives birth to new life, as Jesus’ tomb gave way to the resurrection. Early Christians also began staining eggs red as a symbol of Jesus’ shed blood. The Ukrainians made egg decorating into a highly developed folk art, called pysanki.

Eggs soon became a traditional Easter food. An early Christian blessing, recorded in the 1700s, mentions eggs: “Lord, let the grace of your blessing come upon these eggs, that they be healthful food for your faithful who eat them in thanksgiving for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.”

Easter meant candy

As a child I had little interest in the spiritual aspects of Easter but I loved the fact that the most widely observed custom seemed to be eating chocolate eggs and jellybeans.

Every spring the TV shows we watched on weekend mornings had numerous ads for Plantation Dainties chocolate coconut cream Easter eggs, a Philadelphia tradition. (The Plantation Candies company still exists in suburban Philadelphia, selling mainly to groups holding fundraisers.)

Some years my father would bring home a large coconut cream Easter egg, covered with chocolate and gaudily decorated with colored sugar icing. The egg weighed at least a pound, and we sliced off small hunks to eat. Gourmet chocolate it was not, but to us kids, anything sweet was delicious.

At school we made Easter baskets out of construction paper, filling them with cellophane grass on which we would place our dyed hard-boiled eggs along with chocolate eggs and jellybeans.

Jellybeans – my fave!

I still love jellybeans – probably the only thing I ever had in common with Ronald Reagan.

Jellybeans can trace their lineage back to Turkish delight, a sticky, jellied confection, but the earliest mention of the term may be in 1861, when Boston candymaker William Schrafft urged customers to send his jellybeans to soldiers fighting in the Civil War.

Jellybeans – sometimes called jelly eggs – weren’t linked with Easter until the 1930s, probably because of their somewhat egg-like shape.

Now there’s even a Naitonal Jellybean Day, April 22.

For today’s recipe, I wanted to find something using hardboiled eggs that’s a little more imaginative than egg salad. This recipe, for vegetarian chopped liver (paté), is a good dish for Passover as well as Easter, or any other time. It works well as an appetizer course, served on a bed of lettuce, or as a party dish, served with crackers.

I had seen this recipe, or variations of it, many times and was always grossed out by the combination of ingredients: green beans, walnuts, onions and eggs – really? Then I tasted it at a cooking demo by Annabel Cohen, a wonderful cook and Detroit-area caterer, and became a devotee. I think I like this spread even more than actual chopped liver.

You can substitute a similar amount of canned peas, roasted eggplant or sautéed mushrooms for the green beans.