The giving of eggs at Easter is an age-old tradition. Andrew Webb explores the history of the classic chocolate gift.
Eastertime is all about new season lamb, hot cross buns, and Easter eggs. It’s a moveable feast, although these days it seems supermarkets stock their shelves with Easter eggs soon after the Christmas trappings are cleared away.
The humble egg has been used by many cultures and religions throughout history as a symbol for new life and a new beginning. The Christian church superimposed its doctrine on many of the old ways, linking the symbolism of eggs, Easter and the resurrection together.
The first egg
JS Fry of Bristol made the first chocolate egg in the UK in 1873, with Cadbury’s launching their version two years later. Decorated by hand to suit Victorian tastes, these eggs were made from dark chocolate and would have been rather grainy and bitter by today’s standards according to Tony Bilsborough of Cadbury’s: “They would have been a very expensive and luxury gift.”
Then In 1905 Cadbury’s launched the Dairy Milk chocolate bar, and the subsequent Easter egg made with this new style milk chocolate proved a big hit. Better transportation, a lowering of trade tariffs on cocoa, and developments in production allowed the masses to enjoy Easter eggs, but adults were still the target market.
Rationing of chocolate during WWII meant that it was the late 1950s by the time Cadbury’s introduced the first chocolate Easter eggs for children. Since that time the market for children’s Easter eggs has exploded – and the price has plummeted. “The price of Easter eggs has dropped dramatically, and supermarkets often use them as loss leaders,” says Tony. “Whereas before people may only have given one egg, children now can end up with half a dozen”.
But alongside these cheap children’s confections are a new range of handmade, high-quality couture chocolate eggs that are strictly for grown-ups.
Chantal Coady founded Rococo chocolates in 1983 and today is one of a number of chocolatiers producing stunning bespoke chocolate confections at the artisan end of the market. So, how can you tell a good egg? “What people should be looking for is a smaller egg, made with better quality chocolate and one that is something to be shared and enjoyed,” she advises.
Today it may seem that we live in a more secular world divorced from the rhyme and rhythm of the seasons. But as you snap off a bit of your chocolate shell and (hopefully) share it with friends and family, you are in fact continuing a millennia-old tradition celebrating another spring, the return of warmer days, and a new beginning.
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