Even though they’ve been nudged aside by marshmallow eggs, peanut butter cup eggs, and candy eggs of every color and size, hard-cooked eggs are still the Easter basket standard bearer. For one thing, hard-cooked eggs have a 700-year head start on their plastic imitators.
According to historian Ronald Hutton, hard-cooked eggs became a part of Easter celebrations early in the Middle Ages, because of the strict rules of Lent. Because eggs and other animal products weren’t eaten during Lent, faithful observers hard boiled the eggs their chickens laid during that six-week period in order to preserve them until Lent ended with Easter.
The eggs were also given as gifts and used by farmers to pay their obligations to landed gentry. In his book, “Seasons of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain,” Hutton notes that records show the royal family coloring or gold-leafing eggs in 1290 and then distributing them. Unlike the pastels we now associate with Easter eggs, the medieval eggs were often dyed a vivid red.
While historians have unearthed early occurrences of Easter eggs, they don’t seem to have answered the question of what the recipients did with their bounty of eggs. Did they make a big batch of egg salad? Maybe a few platters of deviled eggs to be washed down with mead and ale?
The dilemma of what to do with eggs hard-cooked for Easter is still with us. Beyond the basics, there are plenty of ways to bring those eggs out of hiding and into the middle of the dinner table.
Having appetizing hard-cooked eggs to eat starts long before they’re served. While we often refer to them as “hard-boiled,” food scientists recommend a gentler cooking method: Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them, plus an inch of water. If the eggs will be dyed, add a tablespoon of vinegar for better dye coverage. Cover pan and quickly bring just to boiling. Turn off heat. If necessary, remove pan from burner to prevent further boiling. Let eggs stand, covered, in the hot water for 15 minutes for large eggs, about 12 minutes for medium and 18 for extra-large. Immediately run cold water over eggs or place them in ice water until completely cooled.
Once cooled, eggs should be refrigerated, and kept cool as much as possible. No more than two hours of unrefrigerated time is suggested for hiding and hunting. When hiding the eggs outside, avoid placing them in the sun or in areas that have been fertilized or treated with chemicals recently. Eggs with cracked shells should not be hidden outside.
After they have been retrieved, the hard-cooked eggs are safe to eat for a week, as long as they remain refrigerated. They can be used in traditional egg salads, updated versions that channel contemporary food trends, such as Buffalo chicken or Mexican street corn, or in a classic French gratin.