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Egg-sactly what's needed

On the trail of the mighty egg
THE ULTIMATE KINDER EGG Concert in the Egg, based on a drawing by Hieronymus Bosch, portended Ferraro's Kinder Eggs 400 years later. Photo by WIKIART

With its perfect marriage of form and function, there's no better icon for marking all things "renewal" tied to spring and Easter than the mighty egg. If you're feeling playful or even a wee bit silly, you could say eggs are egg-sactly what we need this time of year, symbolically and otherwise.

With all their incumbent, multi-layered meanings associated with life, eggs have long been the subject of art and object of ritual.

Some decorated ostrich eggs found in Africa are over 60,000 years old. Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Phoenicians elaborately carved and decorated ostrich eggs, often using motifs of human figures and looping designs mimicking the cycle of life. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, these giant eggs — on average about 15 centimetres long and 13 centimetres wide, or 20 times the size of a chicken egg — have also been suspended in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches to represent "God's watchful eye."

"It used to be thought that the ostrich hatches her eggs by gazing on them and that if she looks away for even a minute the eggs will be addled," recounts Brewer's.

For Christians, the hard shell of the egg can represent the sealing of Christ's tomb, while cracking the shell symbolizes resurrection from the dead. An egg dyed red at Easter symbolizes Christ's blood.

Another way the egg became all wrapped up in Easter, at least for members of the Catholic church, is that eggs weren't originally allowed during Lent or other days of fasting. The end of Lenten observations fall on Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday), right before Good Friday, so people would have craved eggs. Easter itself falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after Spring equinox — something lunar and fertile unto itself.

But for anyone, religious or not, the obvious symbolism of the egg couched with all the dynamics of life and renewal make it the perfect harbinger of spring after a long, dreary winter.

From the gold treasure eggs made by Fabergé to delight Russian royalty during the reign of the last czars, to the amazing Concert in the Egg painting based on a drawing by Hieronymus Bosch, the idea of amazing surprises emerging from the interior of such a simple, austere form have intrigued us since the beginning of time.

I try to imagine how our early primitive ancestors reacted when they first stumbled upon an egg in the wild and watched life — bird, lizard or otherwise — emerge. Delight? Fascination? Fear? Most definitely surprise, and a moment echoed, however distantly today, by Kinder Eggs or kids and adults alike doing all sorts of fun, eggish things this time of year, from tumbling eggs down grassy hills to searching them out in secret locations. Nothing short of a miracle, one tied irrevocably to the emergence of all things spring.

Now for a bit of emerging fun for you — making your own special Easter eggs with dyes you have in your kitchen. You may not find musicians or a golden carriage inside, but don't let that stop you.

Start with fresh, local eggs. The trick is to avoid boiling them too hard or too hot or too long. Here's a good method: cover the eggs with about an inch of water; bring them to a boil on medium-high heat; take them off the burner; let them sit, covered, for 12 minutes; then cool them quickly in cold water.

The older the eggs are, the easier it is to peel them — "old" meaning a few days in the fridge. If you have super fresh eggs, add a half-teaspoon of baking soda to the water to make it more alkaline and your eggs will be easier to peel.

First, wash the shells with warm soapy water so they'll take the dye nicely. Start with a handful (about a quarter cup) of each dye material or a few teaspoons of spices in a saucepan. Add about a cup of water, or enough to cover the material by an inch.

Bring the dye water to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer it for 15 minutes to an hour. The more dye material you use or the longer you simmer it, the more intense the dye will be. Once it's the colour you like, pour it through a strainer and into a measuring cup, adding two to three teaspoons of vinegar for each cup of strained liquid. Pour the dye waters into small bowls that will make it easy to dunk your eggs. A slotted spoon works best. Use an old egg carton to hold the eggs till they dry.

Play around. Dab colours on with sponges, or draw on the eggs with crayons before you dye them. If you rub them gently with a bit of cooking oil, they will gain a soft sheen.

Here are some ideas for dye materials and the resulting colours. But don't stop there — experiment and make your own spring celebration.

Blue: blueberries or their juice; boiled red cabbage leaves; purple grape juice

Green: spinach leaves

Violet or lavender: red wine; Red Zinger / hibiscus tea; small amount of red onion skins; a little grape juice

Orange: carrots; paprika; yellow onion skins; chili powder

Red: lots of red onion skins; pomegranate juice; raspberries

Brown: instant coffee or strong coffee; black tea

Pink: beets or beet juice; cranberry juice; raspberries.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who likes to yolk around.