Easter is coming up this weekend and you’re probably thinking about bunnies and lilies and ham and scalloped potatoes — not to mention more solemn and weighty subjects such as regeneration, resurrection and the end of Lent. (And I suppose that more than a few of you frivolous types are thinking about the long weekend.)
I’ve often thought of the egg as the perfect symbol for this springtime celebration, encompassing within its fragile shell all of the concepts associated with renewal along with lots of heavy duty myth, religion, folklore and, of course, the conundrum, “which came first — etc”. But I also cherish the egg simply for its looks: elegant, smooth and symmetrical, the egg is versatile and beautifully functional — a perfect design.
It was not always so with me. When I was a child, for many years, I would not touch eggs and was filled with loathing at the sight of the slimy, gooey, stringy innards. I was always slightly afraid to break one open, in case something was rotten on the inside. Anyway, I grew up and now eat eggs with great gusto, although I still feel slightly nauseated if I find a tiny spot of blood inside. (UGH!)
I needn’t have worried about getting a bad egg, however, since I have learned that in Canada eggs are treated with great rigour at egg grading stations before sales. There, they are held in clean, refrigerated holding stations, washed and sanitized to remove dirt or any bacteria adhering to the shell and then candled. The candling is a process in which the eggs pass over a very bright light on a conveyor that rolls the eggs over. The light makes the internal contents of the egg visible allowing any defects — such as blood spots, rot, poor quality yolk, air cells, etc. — to be seen. Also, by rolling the egg any cracks in the shell become visible so that defective eggs can be removed. The eggs are then weighed and sorted according to size category. At all parts of the process the Canadian Food Inspection Agency checks to make sure that proper sanitation is ensured and any chance of salmonella is prevented.
I’ve also learned how to make sure that an egg is fresh. You drop the egg into a bowl of water. If it rests on its side at the bottom, it’s fresh, if it stands upright, you should eat it soon and if it floats — use it for hard boiled eggs to decorate or get rid of it. To keep the eggs as fresh as possible, you should store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not in the door). And just one more bit of egg-lore. Brown eggs are not more nutritious than white eggs. They simply come from brown hens and may be a bit bigger than white eggs because brown hens are larger.
Most children do like to eat eggs — especially the fake, colored ones made with lots of sugar that are ubiquitous during this season. And the chocolate ones certainly can’t be beat. If you are a “crafty” type your children may talk you into coloring or decorating eggs as a fun project for the Easter season. My advice would be to resist their pleas tenaciously and to try to steer them into an Easter egg hunt. If you do decide to take on this “coloring” task, prepare for quite a mess. There are all sorts of recipes for dyeing eggs on the Internet; I think the ones that suggest organic vegetable dyes are more interesting and imaginative than the ones using colored packets of dye, but suit yourself.
Decorating eggs at Easter is, of course, a Christian ritual, but it actually pre-dates Christianity, as eggs have been, in general, a symbol of fertility and rebirth, for thousands of years. Likely the most intricate decorative egg designs come from the Eastern Christian traditions — the Ukrainian pysanka or the Polish pisanka are well known. And who hasn’t coveted one of the fabulous decorated eggs created by Peter Paul Fabergé and his company for the Russian Czars between 1885 and 1917. The company left Russia after the revolution in 1917 and there were many changes in trademark, but the glorious, bejewelled ornaments were still being made as late as 2009.
Since there are legions of egg recipes, I thought I’d leave you with a few choices. Stuffed eggs are a retro’ canapé that never really goes out of style. Here are the ingredients for three different kinds and I’m assuming that you do know how to hard cook an egg, carefully remove the yolks, combine them with the stuffing and put the stuffing back into the whites, either using a pastry bag or a spoon. I’m betting that whichever recipe you choose, there will be no leftovers.
1) Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Dill
6 large hard cooked eggs
2 oz thinly sliced smoked salmon
2 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. sour cream
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. minced fresh dill
Garnish: dill sprigs
2) Curried Stuffed Eggs
6 large hard-cooked eggs
1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 1/4 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp bottle Major Grey’s chutney, minced
1 scallion, chopped fine
Tabasco to taste
Garnish: thinly sliced scallion greens
3) Ham and Horseradish
6 hard cooked large eggs
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced cooked ham
1 tsp coarse grained mustard
1 1/2 tsp drained bottle horseradish – or to taste
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
cayenne to taste
And Some Corrections!
Lauren Charman would like you to know that she is still working for Chef Nancy Henley at the Tree House Kitchen while she studies at George Brown College and works at the Detour Cafe. And she has been out of the country before — just not overseas.
My apologies for the inaccuracies, Lauren. Don’t wear yourself out — we will be watching your career with interest.