Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Grab an egg, heat your kiska, and away we go!

I got the pleasure of helping out in DD's class today. There are three classes in her grade, and the teacher of one of them comes from a Ukranian family that makes those decorative easter eggs called pysanky. I can't tell you how cute it was that a teacher's mother and father were there to help out. The father is the one that does the eggs, and he went around in each class and talked to the students about their designs and doted on them and such. The mother handled the baking of the eggs in a toaster oven, and said she was there for moral support since her role usually entails making the cabbage rolls and perogies and not decorating the eggs LOL. I told her she has the MOST important role then ;).

Unlike your typical dyed easter egg, these are not edible, and and they are not empty either. You start with uncooked, clean white eggs. A tool called a kiska - which consists of a metal cone attached to a stick handle with wire - is heated and dipped into a block of beezwax. The cone fills with wax, and you use the candle to keep it liquid for a few moments at a time. When you draw the tip of the cone along the egg's surface, it leaves a trail of wax. Whatever colour the egg shell is under the wax it stays. By covering areas and dipping the egg in a succession of darker dyes, you create designs. When you are done, the egg is heated so the wax melts, and you wipe it off to reveal the design underneath. Over the years, the inside of the egg will dry up and sometimes if you gently shake a very old egg, you can hear the dried yolk rattle inside.

The kids have been studying traditional motifs like flowers and spiders and stylized animals for the past little while, and I have to say I was quite impressed with the way their eggs turned out. They did a good job, considering how patient one has to be while working with the fiddly tools and eggs that don't want to sit still. Amazingly few eggs were dropped or broken. It was nice to see how proud the students were, showing off their eggs at each stage of the process. A pretty good time was had by all. And I managed to make one as well.

We enjoyed it so much, I would consider getting a kit to use next year to make eggs to give as gifts. Apparently, the eggs are considered easter greetings to be given to friends and family. I like that sentiment. DD plans on giving an egg to each grandmother, and keeping her last one for DH. I would go ahead and get a kit for this year but we already have so many plans we just don't have time. We will start earlier next year so we can get enough done.

Oh, and there were far fewer burns than I expected, considering each child had their own lit tealight to work with LOL. A few ouches here and there, but nothing serious. I joked before I did mine and said I was scared, since if I can use my experience with glue guns as a model, the chances of me burning my finger and saying a very bad word was quite probable. But I proved to be the perfect model of a lady. Well, as much as that is possible for me *snork*!

These are the eggs that DD made. From the left, you can see the spider (top and bottom) and tree motif (middle). Then the middle egg shows the butterfly above, and the "rams horns" below. The last egg shows the spider, rams horn, tree, and the last is a flower that is partially hidden.
This is the egg that I made. I chose a fish motif, to honour Cedric.

The parents of the teacher I have been telling you about made gifts for each helper that came, and this is what they gave us - along with a card that explains the Ukranian legends around egg decorating. The egg was decorated to celebrate the renewal of nature and life in the spring, because it was thought that life burst forth in the unviverse from nothing - much as the egg which seems dormant brings forth life. This was absorbed into the Christian celebration of Christ's resurrection.

There is also a legend that the fate of the world depends on pysanky. Each year a monster watches and counts how many pysanky are made. Each one strengthens the chain that holds him and keeps us safe for another year. If the egg decorating should ever stop, the monster will escape and consume the world.

Another story tells that during the agony of Christ, Mary decorated some eggs to offer Pontius Pilate to plead for her son's life. When she cried her tears left dots of colour on the eggs. When she saw him she dropped to her knees and the eggs scattered from her apron and continued until they spread throughout the world.

Very interesting.


Anonymous said...

Those are beautiful. I'm impressed. What a wonderful experience for the kids (and you).


Nevis said... cool! What an a amazing experience for your daughter~!

The Cookbook Junkie said...

DH's grandmother does these eggs. They're so intricate and people are always begging them off of her. She's a sucker so she gives most of them away for free. We're getting one this year. I'm afraid of having delicate things that people put a lot of work into in my house but I finally relented.

I think she takes the insides of her eggs out when she's done though. If it breaks at that point, she loses all of her work.