A local egg dye company continuing Pennsylvania Dutch traditions
A Columbia company comes full circle, landing on the other side of the river in Wrightsville years later, continuing the German customs of local Pennsylvanians with a new product on the market that offers a spin on the tradition of egg dying.
Just how did we end up with bunnies and eggs for Easter?
Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian religion, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and the ending of the Lenten season. The Easter Bunny has become one of the most prominent secular symbols of the holiday, but you won’t find the bunny or his eggs in the Bible. So where did the tale of the cotton-tailed, egg-bearing hare come from? As it turns out, the way many Americans celebrate Easter today has roots from around the world and varying theories for its existence. But many historians agree that the Easter Bunny made his arrival to America in the place we call home and as a result of our Pennsylvania Dutch roots.
Eggs symbolizing new life and rebirth can be traced all the way back to ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians and Hindus, who believed that the world started as a giant egg. These cultures celebrated the egg in the springtime when the renewal, rebirth and fertility of nature is at its peak and did so by dying and painting eggs. Some historians believe that the word “Easter” came from Eostre, the pagan goddess of spring and fertility.
In Christianity, the symbolism of eggs represents Jesus’ resurrection to many people, instilling the eggs’ importance on the Easter holiday. Some historians believe that painting and eating eggs became a Christian Easter tradition because at one point eggs were a forbidden food during Lent. So they were decorated and brought to Easter to mark the end of fasting, but they also shared symbolism with the religious roots of the holiday. And to bring the whole story together, the Easter Hare, or “Osterhase,” originated in the 1500s in Germany from a folk tale about an egg-laying hare that left children colorful eggs on Easter morning in baskets that the children decorated. As the theory has it, fast-forward to the 1700s when German immigrants (whom we all know as the Pennsylvania Dutch) arrived in Pennsylvania, and the American celebration of Easter and the Easter Bunny were born.
A revived business
With the Easter holiday deeply rooted in our local culture, it’s no surprise that other Easter traditions have hatched locally—including egg dying kits. In 1893, Samuel Hinkle, a Lancaster pharmacist, and Luther W. Schroeder opened Schroeder & Hinkle in Columbia, Lancaster County. During the same year, Samuel Hinkle developed Doc Hinkle’s Original Paint-On Easter Egg Dye Coloring Kit, the simple, paint-on egg dye kits which have become a local and national tradition to this day. Schroeder & Hinkle was renamed Hinkle's Pharmacy (hinklespharmacy.com) in 1925 and is still an operating pharmacy, restaurant and gift shop in Columbia.
In 1984, the seasonally demanding egg dying business was sold to Life-Like Products in Baltimore. The fate of Doc Hinkle’s changed again in 2002 when John Wright, a Wrightsville company that is one of America’s oldest sellers of cast iron products and home to the popular John Wright Restaurant, came into the egg painting business. John Wright created a pattern for a cast iron egg painter for Martha Stewart, but they wanted the product to be packaged as an entire kit, egg dye included. So the John Wright Company turned to Life-Like Products to purchase Doc Hinkle’s egg dye for the kits and ended up buying the entire business. Eventually, the dye returned just across the river from its original place of conception, where it is currently manufactured in small batches by hand using the original formula. The cast iron egg painter failed to come to market when the deal fell through, but John Wright is excited to finally reveal the Cast Iron Egg Twirler for the first time this year. In January, limited amounts of the product became available for purchase on their website, jwright.com. The kit comes complete as planned, including egg dye and applicators for $19.95.
Beyond having local roots, Doc Hinkle’s product is often a household favorite nationally because of the quality of the dye. All of the ingredients and the packaging are made in the U.S.A., whereas many of the business’s competitors manufacture their products elsewhere. While this is not the most cost effective way to produce the dye, the company believes keeping the entire kit American-made is important to keep the tradition of the dye alive. Many egg-dying companies have also switched to dip dye, where the entire egg can be dipped into the paint using a vinegar mix. But Doc Hinkle's still produces a food-safe, paint-on dye and includes extra long cotton tips as paint applicators, so the paint must be applied traditionally and creatively. This means no stickers or tricks. Every egg is as unique as the person who decorated it. The paint itself is also more vibrant and glossy than other companies’, as well as water-resistant because it is true paint, whereas many companies utilize food dye. Locally, Doc Hinkle’s egg dye can be purchased at Hinkle’s Pharmacy year-round where the story all began; it is seasonally available at Darrenkamps, Weis Markets, Redner’s Warehouse Markets and John Wright’s website. The egg dye is under $5, decorates five dozen eggs, and includes swab applicators and red, blue, yellow and purple dyes, which can be mixed to create any hue.
How to boil the perfect egg:
1. Place eggs in saucepan (no more than a single layer of eggs) and fill the pan with cold water until it is 1-2 inches above the layer of eggs.
2. Add ½ teaspoon of salt.
3. Use high heat to bring the water to a full boil.
4. Turn the heat off, remove the pan from the burner, and cover the pan with the lid.
5. Let the pan sit covered for 15 minutes.
6. Drain the water and place the eggs immediately in cold water.