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Monday, March 17, 2008


My grand-
parents on mom's side were from eastern Europe - grandpop was born in what is now the southern part of Poland, close to the Slovak border, grandmother in Vishna Polyanka, in what is now Slovakia in the Tatra Mountains, close to the Polish/Slovak border. They met in the US, and my grandmother, in particular, retained "old world ways." They were Ukrainians, born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There's a nice post about my grand parents here.

I was long familiar with pysanky made [usually] during lent and Holy Week. It can take many hours to make one egg. That Paz egg dye stuff ain't gonna cut it. You need clean eggs (duh) -- a proper metal stylus or two, beeswax, really good dyes and a lot of patience, and a steady hand. Usually the women make them, but sometimes men do too. Back before the days of TV the peasants needed something to do during those long dark nights.

I was in my late 20s when my mom coughed it up that, yes, indeed she knew how to make them, but wasn't as good as her sister, Mary. (Also my godmother.) So I had my aunt send the proper tools and with a little instruction from mom, got around, belatedly to making some. Haven't had time to make any in the last couple of years, but the photo shows a few I've made. There's also a nice design I have with an onion domed church, I was showing them to the sainted Father S. the other week and gave him one of those. By custom the priest is given one at Easter - and when people die, they are often placed in coffins - which I had also done when my own mom had died.

I found a website which gives some basic instructions. It can take a good 4 hours or more to make a good egg. I learned to improvise a few things myself re: blowing out the egg without cracking it or taking all day to trickle out. (The trick is you gently SHAKE the sucker BEFORE you put a tiny pin hole top, and a somewhat larger one at bottom. Break the yoke first, dummies! ;-D ) Believe me, nothing worse then putting in four hours or more of work to mess up that part! "oh, well!"

Typically, a few are placed in the Easter Basket of food that gets blessed on Holy Saturday. The whole basket of goodies (which often includes such items as freshly baked bread, butter lambs, kielbasa and all sorts of thing) is often covered by a beautiful hand embroidered cloth. Now that's one skill I for sure don't have, though I have messed around with cross stitching a bit. "Miss Patience" only has so much!

BTW, the plate the pysanky are sitting on is one of my "Sunday china" plates. I've also got "everyday" plates, and another set of plates for holidays.


swissmiss said...

First, I have that same pattern as my good china (Old Country Roses). You're scaring me here. I also have a set of "Christmasy" good china that is Lenox "Winters Greetings." I have been debating whether or not to use the OCR for Easter, since it is a bit heavy for spring or go with my Jadeite Jane Ray pattern that is, obviously, green. I think the color is perfect for the Easter sit-down family dinner I'm hosting and I have enough service pieces to make due.

Second, I love the eggs! They are GORGEOUS. In school, we had to make some eggs (not nearly as intricate) by piercing the shell and blowing out the egg. I got good at that part but never would have the patience to sit down and make these incredible masterpieces. Quite an heirloom.

Adrienne said...

I know how much work goes into those eggs. I havn't done any in a few years. I even have the electric kistka. Yours are very, very good for someone who doesn't get to do it too often. I did one almost exactly like the one on the right.

Swiss - I get all my supplies from The Ukranian Gift Shop in Roseville. Last trip I made to St. Paul I went to their store and went NUTS. That's when I broke down and bought my electric kistka.

You can buy eggs from them that are beyond belief.

Father John Boyle said...

Thanks for this - I hope I have many colourful eggs to bless this Holy Saturday morning!

gemoftheocean said...

Swiss: Hey, I have already decided we were separated at birth! Back before my mom died, she and I were looking at china patterns in a store as we just happened to run in to do a bill pay and the china department was right next to it. I admired that pattern and mom really liked it too. So she got my a service for 4 that Christmas, totally unexpected, but she said "every woman should have at least one really good set of china. :-D I agree. HER nice set is now my holiday set. And I have a heavier set for every day which is better for normal wear and tear. Her set was edged in silver and is a basic white with delicate blue flowers around the edges they are also fluted. And the everyday ware is basically white with a "oountry" theme with various fruits - blue edging and raised pattern around the rim.

As far as the eggs, you can kind of multitask - while you are waiting for the dye colors to "take" on one egg, you can be working on the design of another. I used to do two eggs at a time. I didn't crack too many. Traditionally before starting to work on them you pray. I always prayed I wouldn't crack any and it kept me from cussing up a storm when I did. Length of time is somewhat dependent on the intricacy of the pattern and how many colors you are going to use. You start with the lighter colors - for instance, everything you want to remain white you overlay with heated beaswax ... then if yellow is your next lightest color you dunk it in yellow dye I'd say a good 20 minutes to a 1/2 hour, depending, then you put the wax over everything you want to remain yellow and so on. Time actually passes pretty quickly. Beats watching reruns of most of the crap that's on TV.

Adrienne: Cool! Thanks for the compliment - the one on the left was one of my first efforts. My aunt sent me one that was fabulous a zillion little lines and dots, whatever. I've seen those electric thangs. For me I found the most efficacious thing was to keep the unmelted case of beeswax, then heat the style with a candle then immedately stick the point of the stylus in the wax and apply. I think next year I'll make a point to do some.

Fr. John, delighted you are blessing Easter Baskets. I think it's a great custom and I wish more western rite folks would embrace it. I think I will bake bread and make some pirogi this year. I've got my grandmother's/mothers bread recciepe - when I was in my 20s one easter my mom made a particular kind of bread she hadn't done before which I practically killed her for NOT making before.... she did the bread so that it rose in a flatter/square fashion and in the open center she had mashed potatoes with a little bit of onion in -- WHY DIDN'T YOU MAKE THIS BEFORE?!
"Ah, well, with all the other stuff...." Her mother used to make it quite often, and when the kids yused to go of to "Ukrainian school" once a week for their catechism, she send them off with a big slice each all warm and toasty with butter and a bit of salt. To die for. The priest used to take them once a week for catechism and some church Slavonic stuff. Ukrainian was spoken in the home when the kids were small.

It strikes me I bet some of your Englishmen and women (and other ethnicities in your parish) would enjoy learning from your Polish folks. Hope someone or a few of them give you some, if they've retained the custom.


Adrienne said...

I thought the electric kistka was "cheating" until I visited the afore mentioned shop in MN. Luba, the owner and one of the best eggs designers in the world, looked at me like I was nuts when I asked her about if she used an electric. Well, yeah, duh!! Why would anyone NOT use an electric.

My hardest thing was having to think so far ahead and sort of having to reverse things.

It does become rather hypnotic, though and before you know it you've done 3 or 4 eggs and caught up on the reruns. LOL

Adrienne said...

.....and my Italian grandma made Easter bread. It was twisted with whole eggs (in the shell) baked right into the top. They were actually pretty awful as poor grandma was a terrible cook (dispelling the myth that all Italians can cook:)

One of these days I'm going to try making them.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tradition--you are quite the artist! The eggs are beautiful! When I was young, one year we make an Easter egg tree--a branch from the back yard in a flower pot and then eggs that were blown out and then dyed different colors--not even close to how cool your eggs are, I'm with swissmiss--they are incredible masterpieces!

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