Easter is approaching and Czech girls and boys are getting ready for our Easter traditions. Girls are decorating eggs and the boys are braiding their whips using young shoots from a willow tree. It is because we have one very unusual Easter tradition that originated in Middle Ages.
On Easter Monday the young boys would pop round to visit their friends and neighbours and whip the girls with their braided handmade whips in order to pass the young energy from the whips onto them. It’s supposed to help the girls to keep their health, beauty and fertility for the next year. Weirdly enough, girls are grateful to them for doing so, because who would like to willingly become unattractive and unhealthy?
As a reward, the boys get decorated eggs from the girls as a symbol of a new life. This symbolism is possibly much older than our whipping tradition and originated long before Christianity introduced Easter. There are many ways to decorate Easter eggs and some of them are an art passed from mother to daughter and require skills that are becoming quickly forgotten. These eggs are empty and women carefully decorate the eggshell. My dad has been collecting these eggs since he was a boy and he proudly showcases his growing Easter egg collection every year.
Another, easier way how to decorate eggs is to cook them and dye them in different coloured egg dyes. These cooked eggs should be eaten within a few days after Easter. That’s why most Czech kids go to school with egg sandwiches in their lunchboxes after Easter.
My granny always cooked the eggs in onion skin to get very nice red-orange-brownish colour. As a child, I was more drawn to colourful food colourings as they were brighter and more attractive to me.
However now I prefer the healthier option of natural dyes. To continue with my granny’s tradition, I cook eggs in onion skin every Easter. I decorate them to achieve a print on them using leaves and flowers. Every year I am stunned by the beauty of the result. It is so refreshing to bring spring home after a grey winter by printing the first young leaves onto eggs.
There are just a few things required:
- dry onion skin (3-4 handfuls)
- leaves and flowers from the garden
- thin tights cut into strips
- uncooked eggs (brown gives a better result than white)
- white vinegar
- teaspoon of lard
Collect as much dry brown onion skin as possible in advance (a few weeks or a couple of months before Easter). More dry skins = darker eggs. I sometimes ad dry skin from 1 or 2 red onions as this makes eggs even darker.
An old pair of tights cut into strips. It’s possible to use a bandage from the first aid kit. However, the bigger holes will leave a visible pattern on the eggs.
Make sure you wipe the eggs clean with vinegar to get rid of all oil and dirt.
Pick young spring leaves from the garden or the park.
Lay the strip down, position the leaf in the middle and put the egg on top of the leaf. Then carefully tighten the ends at the top. The knot should be fastened properly so the leaf is held tightly against the egg and water can’t get under it. But not too much as it can crack the egg. It is a bit fiddly, but you will get there after some trial and error.
Then cover the bottom of a wide pot with onion skin and carefully lay the wrapped eggs on top of it (with my pot I can generally pack 4 handfuls of dry onion skin and 8 – 10 eggs). Cover the eggs with the remaining onion peels.
Fill the pot with water to cover the eggs and slowly bring them to boil. Once the water starts to boil, I set my timer for 20 minutes. It should be enough time for the pigment from onion skin to dye the eggshells. If you want darker colour you can leave the eggs resting in the onion water longer.
Once cooked, remove the eggs from the pot and place them on to an old newspaper as they will otherwise stain your countertop. Carefully remove the tights and leaf to uncover the picture underneath. The eggs will still be very hot so please careful with your fingers. If you wait for the eggs to cool, the leaves may stick to the egg shell. Unfortunately, rubbing them off will spoil your leaf print.
The very last step is to make eggs shiny as they will become dull as they dry out. By coating them with the lard or oil give them a nice shine and make the colour more vibrant.
These eggs with gentle leaf prints are a stunning centrepiece for my Easter table. They always attract attention and they are fun to make.