Friday, April 22, 2011

The Latvian Easter Egg

by Zinta Aistars

Earth Day, Good Friday, Easter ... all coming up in this weekend and all seem closely connected to me, one with the other. Symbolizing it all ... a tiny globe, holding new life, a new beginning, a tiny miracle ... is the Easter egg.

Growing up, in our household we celebrated Easter, or Lieldienas, in the Latvian tradition. A part of that tradition was the coloring of Easter eggs ... but without any artificial food dyes. For weeks before, my mother collected the deep brown skins of onions, some a burgundy red, saving them for our eggs. On the morning of the coloring, my mother and my sister and I might also gather grasses or tiny leaves outside in the yard. She would then set a large pot to boiling, and in it water filled with the onion skins. The water would very soon turn a rich, warm brown. With red onion skins, it might turn a deep, dark red.

Plop in the eggs to boil, and in a few minutes they would be colored that wonderful brown. We would take some of the eggs and tie them up in cheesecloth with leaves and flower petals pressed against them. These eggs would emerge from the water with the pattern of the leaves and petals stained golden across them. Drizzling a bit of vinegar into that brown water might leave buttery yellow swirls across the brown eggs.

Best of all ... my father would bring his artistry to the egg table. With a needle, he would scrape designs into the deep brown shells of the eggs. Many times, these would be Latvian designs, but sometimes he would create a tiny bunny rabbit, or a bouquet of pussywillows or a little chick on the side of the egg. My sister and I would watch, enchanted. Sometimes the finished egg would be too beautiful to eat, so we would set it aside to dry ... and after a few weeks the egg inside would seem to have evaporated into thin air, leaving a delicate decorated hollow shell behind.

Other natural dyes could be used, too, although the onion skins are most popular in the Latvian tradition. Greens, yellows, blues, reds could be made from boiling various berries, tree bark, herbs and other plants, then the eggs dipped in.

Easter morning, returning from church service, we had "egg wars." No one could eat an egg until it was broken by someone else's egg on both ends. One would hold an egg firmly in hand, leaving one end exposed, and tap it against someone else's egg. It was hard to say who was winner, who the loser, because the one with the unbroken egg wouldn't be able to eat it until the shell was cracked. Then again, the one with the last unbroken egg was said to have the longest life ahead.

That Good Friday this year (2011) is the same day as Earth Day reminds me that we were given this earth as a gift, as a source of so many blessings. I think back on creating Easter eggs with natural dyes, and it pleases me that long before I became aware of organic foods, or studies about how food dyes have recently been shown to be linked to attention-deficit disorder and other behavioral problems in children, or that artificial concoctions rarely come without a hidden price or a side effect, in my childhood we were already using what was readily available at home. It never occurred to me to do otherwise when I had children.

Whatever one's view of this weekend of holidays and blessings, of celebration of new and renewed life, of returning to the source to find hope for our future, I hold up the Easter egg as a reminder. We can begin small and grow to something that might indeed change everything as we know it, and for the good.

How to color Easter eggs in the Latvian tradition.

Celebrating Easter in Latvian tradition

The Z Acres Kitchen at Easter on Pinterest

Simple recipe for Latvian Easter egg coloring

Latvians Online on Easter traditions


No comments:

Post a Comment