For many who will suffer a ‘chocolate overdose’ this Easter, it’s probably hard to imagine that it wasn’t always predicted to become such a sweet holiday. On March 31, 1894, the Ashburton Guardian boldly claimed what was by then no doubt a widely a shared belief that, “Easter eggs are now a thing of the past.” The newspaper did note however, that the religious significance of Easter remained.
It’s hard to know why Easter eggs were falling out of fashion. Perhaps New Zealander’s just needed to follow the American trend and hunt down their Easter eggs?
Easter egg hunts were first documented not long before, in A E Housman’s inaugural lecture at University College, London in 1892, when he reported that “in Germany at Easter time they hide coloured eggs about the house and garden that the children may amuse themselves in discovering them.”
The largest Easter egg hunt in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records was held in, Homer, Georgia, United States was listed in 1985 with 80,000 eggs to hunt in a town of 950 people.
Eggs and buns
Chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe. Eggs have long been associated with Easter as a symbol of new life and fertility. The first Cadbury Easter egg was made in 1875. They took a while to catch on.
Those earliest eggs were made with dark chocolate and had a smooth, plain surface. They were often filled with sugar-coated chocolate drops known as ‘dragees’. Later Easter eggs were decorated and had their plain shells enhanced with chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
Although chocolate Easter eggs were available before the industrial revolution they were far more expensive and hard to come by as they had to be individually hand made by specialists.
This made sweet eggs a rare and special treat. As the Ashburton Guardian reported on April 4, 1912, almost the only ancient Easter tradition to survive in New Zealand “is the eating of hot cross buns, though we may occasionally see Easter eggs in the confectioners’ shops.”
As the author reminded readers:
“The Easter egg is the symbol of new birth or new creation. In ancient days it was an actual egg, never a product of the pastrycook’s craft, which was boiled hard, and perhaps inscribed with the Christian name of the person to whom it was given.”
The scarcity of fancy eggs and popularity of Hot Cross Buns, was a boon for local bakers. For many years, Ashburton baker Steve Madden cornered the market, by baking Hot Cross Buns especially for locals each Easter.
The buns were so popular that Mr Madden had to remind customer’s that, “We are now Booking Orders for Hot Cross Buns. Please order early to avoid disappointment.” He even stayed open until 10:00pm each year on Thursday, the night before Good Friday, to ensure people could make a last minute purchase (or top up) of his popular provisions.
Our better buns
For one young writer, who wrote a prize winning essay printed in the Ashburton Guardian, May 31, 1905, Ashburton’s Hot Cross Buns were definitely superior.
Her published essay described her Easter holidays, including a trip to stay with friends in Christchurch.
First she endured a long hot and cramped trip by train to Christchurch. Every carriage so packed with people so that she and many others had to stand the whole way to the city. And while she had a fabulous time with friends, and greatly admired how large the shops were, how splendid the view from the Port Hills and the fun of paddling at Brighton, her weekend was somewhat marred by her crossed Hot Cross Bun experience. As she wrote, ‘hot in name only’ and then while eaten, much criticised – the buns did not compare to those of her home town, Ashburton.
By Vanessa Coulter and Tanya Zoe Robinson
- A cute chick pulling a carriage with an Easter egg, from the Ashburton Museum collection.
- An easter card from the Ashburton Museum archive.
- Linda Spicer and Robyn Hall at the Ashburton Hospital Children’s Ward with giant Easter egg, 1954. ©Ashburton Museum
- A silk Easter themed card sent from the front during World War One to an Ashburton recipient.
- A Hot Cross Bun advertisement from the Ashburton Guardian, 1912.