The origin of the word is French Pasques for Easter, after the Latin Pasca.
"Hard boiled eggs at Easter were known as paste eggs instead of pace eggs."
(DH, Consett, mid C20th)
"We used to save onion skin, then boil it up in water and put the eggs in. They came out brown, but patterned as the shapes of the bits of onion skin pressed against them in the pan."
(GJ, Croxdale re 1960s)
"You could wind string round the eggs and boil them in water with cochineal. They came out with spiral patterns on them. Or wrap ferns round the egg for intricate patterns."
(V. Seaham re 1970s)
Hints: red cabbage, cocoa, and a number of similar common items can be used as dyes in the water. The appearance is improved by rubbing the finished egg with olive oil.
"Paste Eggs -- these were surely eggs hard-boiled, then coloured by various
means for Easter Sunday? There were some right bobby dazzlers. Like conkers,
people seemed to have their own secret recipes for staining them all kinds of
subtle and mottled shades. It was a shame to peel off the shells and when you
did the stain had gone through and they looked even less edible. There seemed
a sad discrepancy between the visually-impressive outside and the cold
unappetising inside. But then I think in the 50s I was at the transition
between paste eggs and CHOCOLATE eggs."
(JS re Chester-le-Street)
"My mother used onion skins, coffee grounds and (sometimes) cochineal for her paste eggs, like the majority of your contributors. She once told me that when she was a child they did not have one or two eggs each, but a great bowlful for the family. I shall be doing some this week for my grand-daughters. I never have enough onion skins (you get the best colours from these) so I borrow them from the Co-op."
"Egg rolling. This used to be on Kinley Hill, every Easter, and you'd go up, and your parents and grand-parents with you, to see you roll the eggs down; not as a contest, just for fun, for it was a good grassy hill then."
(GP re east Durham, 1930s)
Kinley Hill is a prominence near the coast, south of Seaham/Dawdon. But it is
by no means the only slope available. Did it matter which hill was used? I wrote about this to a local group who demonstrate egg decoration among their many skills...
"You may find The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton useful..., certainly by 1900 traditional spots were chosen for this activity. However, Hutton does not give any interpretation of the purpose of egg rolling. Christina Hole in A Dictionary of British Folk Customs suggests that egg rolling was not originally a competitive game but in a later version the last unbroken egg was the winner. It seems to have started as a communal Easter celebration as a way of cracking and eating the decorated eggs. Further variants included unbroken egg at foot of slope equals good luck in future, broken egg equals misfortune to come. Also young men and women rolling eggs separately, ones that went furthest equals first in each group to marry. Hole also agrees that traditional sites for egg rolling evolved but any convenient slope could be used. Another local custom was Jarping, which I expect your informant will remember too. These customs all have a strong northern bias, with some local variations. Hope this helps."
L.G. (website Reantapeasant - under consruction)
"Burt Hunter, fount of much rural wisdom from Knitsley near Consett,
has always roled eggs on Easter Sunday and says any convenient bank will do. We still paste-egg each Easter Monday morning on Paste Egg Bank at Lanchester (bring an egg to dye - all welcome). The eggs are dyed with flowers (usually celandines) and onion skin. Cow parsley leaves (not fern) provide a stencil to make a feathery pattern. The eggs are then bouled competitively until there is a winner. Occasionally some people jarp but this is not usually done as bouling is more fun."
And, on further prompting...
"The origins of paste egging are thought to be pre-Christian. Eggs are associated with rebirth and spring. The Church claim that it's symbolic of rolling the stone away from Christ's tomb but this is ecclesiastical imperialism.
The winner of the bouling gets to keep the eggs - cracked but still edible. We wonder how valuable a hatful of hard-boiled eggs would be in earlier times."
A problem here is Bede's claim that the Old English i.e. Anglo-Saxon word 'Eostre', meaning Easter, represents the name of a goddess. As with his explanations of Old English month-names, this is elegant and erudite but shows little comprehension of non-standard systems. Symbolic and religious meanings for 'egg' are intriguing, but the obvious link is that Easter and Spring are the 'egg' time of year.
Chocolate Easter eggs are a relatively new delicacy, first manufactured by Fry's in 1873.
"The eggs being immersed in hot water for a few moments, the end of a common tallow-candle is made use of to inscribe the names of individuals, dates of particular events, &c. The warmth of the egg renders this a very easy process. Thus inscribed, the egg is placed in a pan of hot water, saturated with cochineal or other dye-woods; the part over which the tallow has been passed is impervious to the operation of the dye; and consequently when the egg is removed from the pan, there appears no discolouration of the egg where the inscription has been traced, but the egg presents a white inscription on a coloured ground. The colour of course depends upon the taste of the person who prepared the egg; but usually much variety of colour is made use of.
"Another method of ornamenting 'pace eggs' is, however, much neater, although more laborious, than that with the tallow-candle. The egg being dyed, it may be decorated in a very pretty manner, by means of a penknife, with which the dye may be scraped off, leaving the design white, on a coloured ground."
(The Every-Day Book, 1827 re Cumberland)
"Jarping eggs was an old tradition in which everyone joined, every male that is. One person held an egg in a cupped hand showing only the end. The other person used his egg to tap the held egg. The loser was the holder of the first egg to break."