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Late February means one thing in the Food Challenge household: the re-emergence of chocolate eggs at supermarket checkout aisles everywhere. For true candy aficionados, few moments of the year are so glorious, or profound.
This year, the eggs seemed to strike early, just in step with Presidents' Day. It was as if all the grocery store owners in town were lovelorn spinsters, impatient to cast their stock of Valentine conversation hearts aside.
It made us wake up and wonder, "Wait a second, when is Easter?" It's March 27, which means there are approximately 38 days of chocolate eggs this calendar year.
A few days ago, Food Challenge was at Fred Meyer, aglow in the brilliant splendor that is the chocolate/marshmallow egg aisle.
"Why sun, why moon, why are not all rabbits so chocolatey?" we wondered aloud, to a shelf of yellow stuffed chickens.
Indeed, it is a bold question in this age of biogenetics.
A better question, though, is why rabbits are cast in chocolate at all.
The answer takes us back to the Saxons, who celebrated the arrival of spring with the festival of Eostre, the goddess of dawn. Eggs and rabbits, icons of birth and fertility, were given as gifts, according to rabbit.org, the official Web site of the House Rabbit Society. Marshmallow Peeps would have to wait another 1,700 years.
Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity, and early Christians accordingly adopted some Saxon rituals. The egg now came to symbolize the "rebirth" of Christ.
Early Easter eggs were painted, as they are today. By the end of the 1600s, artificial eggs were being manufactured. And by the early 1800s, chocolate eggs were being made in Germany. Mass-manufacturing began around 1900, and mass commercialization followed. Nowadays, you can even buy a Peeps handbag to go with your Peeps.
Back in the Food Challenge laboratory, we decided to pay homage to those early, inspired chocolate-egg makers. Naturally, with most of our time taken up by bold food experimenting, we didn't have time for pure chocolate casting.
But we did have two chilled hard-boiled eggs and a bottle of Smucker's Magic Shell, the chocolate topping that hardens when you put your sundae in the freezer.
We poured about a cup of the stuff over each egg, put them both in the fridge and went downtown for lunch. We returned, and heart racing, opened the freezer door. We found two chocolate eggs.
To add some color, we sat each egg on an apple slice, seated on a folded piece of ham. Another apple slice rests on top. We call it "Saxony Rediscovered." The verdict? Let's just say it's a very Happy Easter.
We want to see what you can do with (1) chocolate (2) egg (3) ham and (4) apple. You may use these four ingredients, and anything else. But entries will be disqualified if you omit one of the items.
Please deliver a copy of your recipe to the Empire's front desk between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., mail to Food Challenge, c/o Juneau Empire, 3100 Channel Drive, Juneau, AK 99801, or e-mail to email@example.com. Include ingredients, directions, your name, address, telephone number, e-mail and the name of someone who saw you eat the dish.
The deadline is Friday, March 18, and the best recipes will be printed in an upcoming Food page.
For more information, visit http://www.juneauempire.com/foodchallenge.