Were Easter eggs eaten in Regency times?
|Whilst Jane Austen would not have had the chocolate Easter Eggs that have become an important part of Easter today, it is possible that she may have used blown egg decorations at Easter time, and she would have been familiar with the symbolic connotations of eggs and Easter. Like the springtime appearance of young rabbits and hares that gave rise to stories of the Easter Bunny, eggs have been associated with rebirth and spring since Pagan times. Christians capitalised on this association by linking eggs to Christ’s resurrection. The hatching chick is a symbol of new life, recalling Jesus emerging from the tomb after he was crucified.|
Meals including eggs are mentioned in Jane’s novels, including this amusing comment by Emma’s hypochondriac father Mr. Woodhouse. He takes eating what he considers to be wholesome foods seriously and fortunately has a good cook, Serle, who prepares what Mr. Woodhouse sees as healthy foods like boiled eggs. Here, Mr. Woodhouse tries to impose healthy eating on this acquaintances:
‘Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you’ (Emma, Chapter 3).
Hen eggs were traditionally decorated for Easter using natural dyes. For example, wrapping the eggs in onion skins and boiling them gave them a mottled golden appearance.
Pace egg rolling was a popular Easter tradition in many parts of Regency Britain. The name Pace egg comes from ‘Pasch.’ This archaic word in English means Passover, or Easter. In Lancashire, Pace eggs were customarily rolled down a hill to symbolise the stone being rolled away from Christ’s tomb when he rose from death. The egg rolling contest would be won by the person whose egg went the furthest.
Some Pace eggs were beautifully decorated and given as gifts. In April 1789 the New Exeter Journal commented that:
‘It is still the custom in the North of England, at this season of Easter, to present paste (or pasche) eggs to young women; they are covered with gold leaf, and stained. This is a relic of antient [an obsolete spelling of ancient] superstition, an egg being in former times considered as a type of our Saviour’s resurrection.’
Regency people used papier-mache eggs decorated with velvet and ribbons, or covered with gold leaf, to enclose small Easter gifts. The two halves of the egg would be tied together with ribbon.
The first egg-shaped Easter confectionery was made by Italian born Guglielmo Jarrin, who had worked as a confectioner from an early age. Confectioners were often highly skilled and made a good income preparing elaborate sweets for the dinner tables of the Regency elite. In his book The Italian Confectioner (1827) Jarrin included recipes for sweets shaped like eggs. His recipes were complicated and called for making eggshell shaped cases with sugar, nuts and fruit. The cases were wrapped around trinkets. Another of his recipes involved creating a sugar eggshell case to be filled with yellow cream that resembled egg yolks.
Eating chocolate was not invented until the nineteenth-century, and it was not moulded until a few years after the Dutch chemist and chocolatier Coenraad van Houten invented a hydraulic press to separate out cocoa butter in 1828. Later, France and Germany were the pioneers in the art of moulding chocolate into shapes. When the first chocolate Easter Eggs appeared, they were solid rather than the ones with hollow centres that modern people are accustomed to.
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