I don’t need an excuse to eat chocolate any day of the year, but it’s particularly interesting to explore why we have special license to munch on this delicious treat at Easter, as long as it’s egg-shaped!
Delve into the history and origins of the festival of Easter and you come up with a few surprises. For instance, Easter eggs do not owe their origins to Christianity and originally the festival of Easter itself and the giving of Easter gifts had nothing to do with Christianity either. A closer look at the history of both Easter and the Easter egg reveals a much earlier association with pagan ritual and in particular, the pagan rites of spring, dating back into pre-history. Most ancient races around the world had spring festivals to celebrate the rebirth of the year. The egg, as a symbol of fertility and re-birth, has been associated with these rites from the earliest times.
The earliest Easter eggs were hen or duck eggs decorated at home in bright colours with vegetable dye and charcoal. Many cultures continue to dye Easter eggs, often decorating them with flowers. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the manufacture of egg-shaped toys, which were given to children at Easter. The Victorians had cardboard, ‘plush’ and satin covered eggs filled with Easter gifts and chocolates. The ultimate egg-shaped Easter gifts were the fabulous jewelled creations of Carl Faberge made during the 19th century for the Russian Czar and Czarina, now precious museum pieces worth millions.
Chocolate Easter eggs were first made in Europe in the early 19th century, with France and Germany taking the lead in this new artistic confectionery. Some early eggs were solid, as the technique for mass-producing moulded chocolate had not been devised. The production of the first hollow Easter eggs was painstaking, as the moulds had to be lined with paste chocolate one at a time!
Cadburys made their first ‘French Eating Chocolate’ in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that the first Cadbury Easter Eggs were made. Progress in the chocolate Easter egg market was slow until a method was found for making the chocolate flow into the moulds.
The modern chocolate Easter egg owes its progression to the two greatest developments in the history of chocolate – the Dutch invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean in 1828 and introduction of a pure cocoa by Cadbury Brothers in 1866. The Cadbury process made large quantities of cocoa butter available and this was the secret of making moulded chocolate.
The earliest chocolate Easter eggs were made of dark chocolate with a lain smooth surface and were filled with sugared almonds. The earliest ‘decorated eggs’ were plain shells enhanced by chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
Decorative skill and variety bloomed and by 1893 there were 19 different lines on the Cadbury Easter list alone. Many of the earliest egg designs available were based on French, Dutch and German originals adapted to Victorian tastes. Germany came up with the ‘crocodile’ finish, which by breaking up the smooth surface, disguised many imperfections. This was the forerunner to the many distinctive finishes now available. Today the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.