Monday, April 13, 2009

Ukrainian Eggs

For as long as I can remember Ukrainian eggs, or pysanky, have heralded the Easter holiday. My mother and her brother Hitch have been making these decorative dyed eggs since their childhood in Minnesota. The story goes that one day my grandmother brought home a Ukrainian egg starter kit and it rapidly became a family tradition that my mother has passed to her children. My brother is a terrific egg maker and I have been trying to best him in the symbolic art of pysanka to no avail. This was the first time Valerie has made Ukrainian Easter eggs and I think she really enjoyed it. In fact after her first egg, which she unfortunately dropped, she was looking like a pro. Pysanky are whole raw eggs that have been decorated with a wax-resist batik method where one draws those portions of the design that you want to remain in that color. The necessary equipment is the kistka, a small hollow funnel attached to a stick used to paint with, a piece of beeswax, a candle, and of course the colored dyes. Beeswax is scooped into the kistka and heated in a candle flame to be applied to the white egg; any bit of shell covered with wax would be sealed and remain white. Then the eggs are dyed any color, moving progressively from light to dark as more wax is applied. After the egg is completed and dipped it into its final color, the wax is removed by holding the egg next to a candle to gently melt and wipe it away.

Although I was taught exclusively about the history and traditional patterns of Ukrainian Easter eggs, many other eastern European ethnic groups including the Belorussians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles and Romanians decorate eggs in a similar manner. We have a couple of books on pysanky and my friend Nick, who is a really talented egg maker, used to read passages aloud as we sat around the table decorating by candlelight. Each province, village, and almost every family in the Ukraine has its unique cultural symbols and meanings that they applied to the dyeing of eggs. These customs were preserved faithfully and passed down from mother to daughter through generations, as was the case with my family. My mother has eggs dating back to her childhood, shellacked and preserved through time as the inner yolk desiccates, leaving the decorative shell intact. These are a really cool way to spend time with family making gorgeous festive eggs that are more akin to folk art than the hard boiled and cheaply dyed eggs characteristic of Easter. Check it out online and get yourself a pysanky starter kit next April, I guarantee that you will have a blast. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!


Heather Fay said...

Wow that brings back memories of my childhood in Minneapolis! My parents also bought a starter kit -perhaps inspired by your grandmother. I need to find a kit for my family!!! Thanks for the memory.

lawn gnome said...

Wow! Those are awesome... and nothing like Valerie ever made as a kid :-) She's really stepped it up a notch, my Easter eggs will need to take a giant leap forward next year!