Not so many years ago Irish people celebrated Easter with hard-boiled eggs on Easter Sunday – even though chocolate ones had been around for decades.
Tradition dictated that during Lent – a period of fast and abstinence – that people would not eat eggs.
So on Shrove Tuesday the larder’s supply of eggs would be raided for pancakes and not topped up again until six weeks later.
Then on Easter Sunday they would be dropped into the boiling water with food colouring and various members of the household would help themselves to two, or even three, or maybe – for those few wishing to recreate Paul Newman’s scene in Cool Hand Luke, a great many more.
Eggs are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life throughout many religions.
Ēostre or Ostara , an old German (and Norse) pagan divinity, is the namesake of Easter (the first written reference to whom is in the Venerable Bede’s The Reckoning of Time where he records that Ēostre was honoured in April by Anglo Saxons but the tradition was eventually subsumed into into Christianity’s paschal month.
Similarly Christianity assimilated the earlier pagan tradition of Saturnalia – a time of feasting in winter’s bleakest darkest days – as Christmas.
Zoroastrians, in what is today Iran, painted eggs for Nowruz, their new year celebration, which fell on the spring equinox.
Decorated ostrich eggs, estimated to be up to 5,000 years old, were found in the tombs of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians.
Where the chocolate Easter offerings are concerned, in parts of Europe a fish – the symbol used by underground Christians at a time of persecution – is sometimes preferred.
But back to the Irish tradition of hardboiled eggs at Easter.
Eggs in Christianity are seen as a symbol of Jesus; the hollow egg is a symbol of his empty tomb, while the cracking of the shell represents his resurrection.
Quaker confectioners, and philanthropists, John Cadbury and Joseph Fry pioneered chocolate eggs in Britain and Ireland in the 19 th century.
Both men’s socially conscious companies eventually merged and lost touch with their original high minded and worthy ideals only to be gobbled up in 2010 by US conglomerate, Kraft, now known as Mondelez.
Other than the original Faberge eggs made for the Russian Tsar’s family the most expensive chocolate egg – to date, at least – was the Golden Speckled Egg by Richmond and Belgravia chocolatier William Curley who, with his Japanese wife, has tried many exotic variations on traditional chocolate flavours, including Japanese black vinegar, muscovado caramel, rosemary and olive oil, and toasted sesame.
His egg weighed 110lbs and took seven chefs three days to complete and was bought for £7,000 at auction 2012 by an Indian financier, Cyrus K Vandrevala.