I was in a supermarket somewhere in New England a few years ago and I came upon something that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time – and it reminded me of my childhood at the Manse. It was a display of PAAS Easter-egg-colouring kits, and as you can imagine, I had to buy one. And I still have it, because a) I didn’t have any interest in actually hard-boiling a bunch of eggs and colouring them; and b) I didn’t know when I’d find another such thing (I haven’t seen them in Montreal, that’s for sure) so thought I’d better hold onto it for the right moment. Which happens to be now, when I needed a photo of it to illustrate Easter-preparation time at the United Church Manse in Queensborough, Ont., c. 1966.
I haven’t opened my 21st-century PAAS kit, but I can more or less remember what comes in it: some tablets of dye that you dissolve in vinegar (and water?), and a rather delicate metal thingamabob that you use to hold the egg when you dip it in the dyed vinegar/water. And some decorative stickers to dress up the finished pink and yellow and red and purple and blue eggs.
The thing that comes to mind first when I think about dyeing those eggs is the smell of vinegar. Which may be what everyone thinks of first, and is possibly why Heinz now seems to be some sort of partner in the PAAS operation; there’s a big pitch for Heinz vinegar on the back of the kit, telling you that your egg colours will be “ultra-vibrant” if you use it.
Anyway, it’s fun to remember the simple pleasures of getting ready for Easter back when you were a little kid and it was very exciting to see a white hard-boiled egg turn purple before your eyes. (Quite possibly thanks to toxic dye; those were the days before we all started to worry about Red Dye No. 2. Remember the big Red Dye No. 2 scare of the mid-1970s, people? No, well, if you’re younger than 50, of course you don’t. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Time Magazine has included it in a tongue-in-cheek list of the “Top 10 Panics!” that we all somehow managed to survive.)
This evening I found some pictures of vintage PAAS kits online, and I have to say they look a lot more like the ones we used to have at the Manse than the one I have in my kitchen now. Very sweet.
But the final word on PAAS-coloured Easter eggs is this: they were fun to do, but who’s really going to get excited about a hard-boiled egg on Easter morning, no matter how colourful it is? Egg-wise, what mattered at Easter then is what matters at Easter now. And that is (as Raymond’s daughter Dominique reminded us last night): chocolate!