Create Easter masterpieces the way my Polish grandmother did
My Polish grandmother who came to America as a young teenager brought with her an old tradition that my family still enjoys: making Polish Easter eggs.
Saturday evening before Easter finds an assortment of family and friends around our table decorating eggs the old-fashioned way, by making designs of melted wax on the eggs and then dipping them in Easter egg dyes. We use the tablets that come with the kits instead of the onionskins that Grandma used for color. The results are original, bright and make a great display for the Easter buffet.
First, we simmer white eggs for 20 minutes, then run cold water into the pot to bring the eggs to room temperature before placing them on cake-racks to dry. Next, we assemble the materials: a piece of wax about an inch square (from a block of paraffin or a candle), a small metal dish to melt it in and a hot-plate with a low setting; a few small paintbrushes, pencils with eraser trips and some sewing pins.
We dissolve the color tablets in a tablespoon of vinegar per cup before filling about two-thirds full with cold water, leaving room for an egg. The water should be cold so the wax will not melt and smear.
We make a simple tool by pushing a pin into a pencil eraser so we can dip the head of the pin into the hot wax to make dots and dashes on the egg. Dye will not adhere wherever there is a wax mark.
Holding an egg with a tissue, we begin to add dots and dashes to the surface, one or two per dip. Peck … peck … peck is the only sound in the room as we concentrate on our designs. The dots and dashes form geometric patterns, lettering or simple drawings.
What shall the blank egg become? Flowers or fish, grape clusters or tendrils, sailboats or pets. Maybe a crab? There’s always a striped watermelon egg, one of my dad’s favorite patterns. And there’s sure to be family names and symbols, from horseshoes to fishhooks and tractors.
More elaborate designs grace the eggs of daughter Tina. She’s sure to do a Polish eagle, an American flag and maybe a few Chesapeake Bay creatures. She often does a few multi-colored eggs, dipping them in several colors and adding wax designs between dips. Daughter Bonnie and the grandchildren usually do the coloring after decorating a few of the eggs themselves. The menfolk help, too, and add to the hilarity with their critiques of the artwork.
After each egg remains in the dye about five minutes, we lift it out with one of the wire loops provided in the color kit and place the egg on a cake rack to dry. It’s best to cover the counter with an old towel, since the color drips and might give you psychedelic countertops.
When the eggs are dry, they go back in the carton. We cover them with a tissue before closing the lid and refrigerating. The tissue absorbs condensation when the eggs are brought out the next morning and allowed to warm to room temperature. When we place the fancy eggs in our best china, where they really light up the brunch table on Easter morning, I feel the smile of the grandmother I never knew.