The Story of Easter Eggs
By Wendy Hughes
The custom of giving eggs at Easter celebrates new life. It is a time when Christians remember that Jesus, after dying on the cross, rose from the dead showing that life could win over death. The egg is also a symbol of the resurrection because when the egg is cracked open its stands for the empty tomb. No one actually knows when eggs were first used as symbol at festival times, but it could well have been before Christ’s time. The egg has long been a symbol of fertility and rebirth, and in Egyptian mythology, the phoenix burns its nest to be reborn later from the egg that’s left. The word Easter is derived from EOSTRE, the Teutonic Goddess of spring. With the rise of Christianity in Western Europe, the church adapted many pagan customs, but there is nothing to indicate that it is linked in any to primitive times. We do know is that long ago people gave gifts of eggs carved from wood, or hen’s or duck eggs decorated at home in bright colours with vegetable dyes and charcoal.
The First Chocolate Easter Eggs
The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in the early 19th century – almost certainly in France, who for many years led the market in confectionery. Most of these early eggs were solid. The production of eating chocolate on a factory scale began in 1819 and had been attributed to Francois-Louis Cailler (1796- 1852) who lived in Verey, Switzerland. He first tasted Italian chocolate at a local fair and spent the next four years in Turin learning the art of chocolate making. He returned to Switzerland and set up the first Swiss chocolate factory, and as far as we can establish this was the first eating chocolate to be prepared and sold in blocks. At this time it could not be successfully moulded, and the manufacturers of the first eggs found it an extremely difficult, crude and wasteful business. The early moulds for the hollow eggs had to be first lined with a paste chocolate, one layer at a time.
British Easter Egg
The first British chocolate egg as we know it today derives from two of the greatest development in the chocolate history business. The first, in 1828, was Van Houton’s invention of a press. Casparus van Houten Sr. (and not his son, who is usually credited) patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cocoa beans. The center of the bean, known as the ‘nib,’ contains an average of 54% cocoa butter, which is a natural fat. Van Houten’s machine – a press reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half. This created a “cake” that could then be pulverized into cocoa powder, which was to become the basis of all chocolate products. The introduction of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create mix closely resembling today’s eating chocolate.
The second was the introduction of a pure cocoa butter by Cadbury in 1866. John Cadbury’s sons Richard and George introduced a new cocoa press developed in the Netherlands which removed some of the unpalatable cocoa butter from the cocoa bean. This] process together with the Van Houton press made available large quantities of cocoa butter, which became the key to the success of making moulded chocolate. John Cadbury’s first Easter egg made of French eating chocolate appeared in 1842, but it was not until 1875, that a dark chocolate egg, with sugared almonds, with a plain smooth surface came into mass production. These early Victorian eggs were highly decorated, thanks to the artistic skills of Richard Cadbury, a nephew of John Cadbury, who based many of his designs on the German, Dutch and French originals. It was from German that the ‘crocodile’ finish was introduced. This served no useful purpose except that by breaking up the surface small blemishes could be disguised.
Cream filled eggs did not appear on the market until the early 1920’s, and became for forerunner to the sandwich and filled chocolate blocks. In 1924 a marshmallow egg was introduced, and in 1926 the whipped creamed egg emerged.
By the late 1930’s the decorated egg had reached its full potential and was rivalled only by the Cadbury Continental egg. These eggs were made of the finest plain eating chocolate. Filled with expensive continental chocolates, and cost about 7/6d (35p). They weighed around 2 pounds in eight, beautiful decorated with confectionery flowers, and packed in ornate presentation caskets. They were extremely fragile and seasonal, and would never have reached their present day popularity had it not been for the introduction of mass production methods in 1900. Today, with the invention of new egg-making machines, it is a continual twelve month production to satisfy the ever increasing market.
Recently Easter eggs have been especially prepared for the visually impaired. These are called ‘Beeping Easter Eggs because they emit various clicks and noises so the visually impaired children can hunt for them. Some make a single, high pitched sound and other play a melody. The purpose of this is to include one and all in the Easter celebration and to spread happiness to everyone. After all that is what Easter is all about.