Dubrovnik’s traditional Easter egg decorating technique

A custom deeply rooted in the Easter celebration throughout the world is presenting decorated eggs as tokens of friendship, love or good wishes.

For all of you whom we will not have the pleasure of welcoming for Easter this year, we would like to extend some of the spirit, by letting you in on the special egg decorating technique traditional to the Dubrovnik region.

Penganje jaja is a traditional egg decorating technique in Dubrovnik based on so-called batik method, or wax resistant dyeing.

While it might sound complex at first, the experienced ladies of Primorje and Konavle regions, or in this case one of our own special ladies from ALH who helped with this piece, argue that all you really need is some patience and each egg will come out prettier than the last.

The drawing process

For the first part of the process, or the actual drawing, you need:

-    fresh eggs (uncooked and at room temperature)
-    melted beeswax (and a place to kept it constantly warm)
-    a pen made out of a sewing needle (ball shaped) fixed on to a laurel or vine twig (traditionally) or on a regular pencil. 

Holding the egg in one hand, with the second one dip the pin in melted hot wax, then apply thinner and thicker strokes on the egg. Gradually these dashes, dots or hyphens will form round or star shaped ornaments, various motives, hearts, twigs or flowers.

What you will see is that each stroke must be followed by a new dip in the wax. Drawing requires a quick and steady hand, not allowing the wax to cool down on the pin.

Traditionally the eggs were also engraved with greetings, sayings and wishes. Though the true riches of these old sayings remains in the Croatian language and regional dialect, here are some of the examples in translation:

The egg is one, the hearts are two, who I want is you,
Around the bend, in the proper hand
This egg mottled and so fine, needs a toast with brandy and wine

Tips for the drawing process:

-    Before drawing, polish the eggshells gently with a rough piece of cloth to remove any crumbs or dirt   
-    Keep the eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes before starting to decorate them. If they are cold, the wax will cool too quickly and peel off, losing its effect later during dyeing.
-    One of the simplest ways to keep the wax warm is using a candleholder with essential oil burner dish

The dyeing process

The second part of the process is to dye the eggs with color.

Traditional eggs are dyed dark red and the color is obtained by soaking the bark of the pine tree in water for a few days prior to dyeing, or by cooking them with red onion skins.

Once your eggs are decorated with wax, place them in cold water with onion skins. Slowly bring to boiling until the eggs are cooked and the wax is melted and peeled off, thus revealing the artwork.

Depending on the color of the egg shell and the time the eggs stay in the dye, you will obtain different shades.  Eggs with brown shells will have a deeper color, with a more pleasing, warm contrast between the base color and the waxed ornaments.

Don't worry, the eggs do not pick up any of the onion flavor on the inside. Even when an egg cracks during the dyeing process and the color reaches its inside, it is still edible. It contains no harmful chemicals.

Tips for the drawing process:
-    Two teaspoons of vinegar while cooking will help prevent the eggshells from breaking. Placing an old piece of cloth on the bottom of your pot also help in keeping the eggs intact while boiling.
-    Once cooled, smear the eggs with some bacon for shine

With hope that your little project turns out successful,
we wish you a Happy Easter filled with joy and warmth.

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