spring tradition

The Greeks, Chinese and Persians exchanged eggs at spring festivals long before the Christian festival of Easter. Eggs were considered symbolic of the first sign of spring, and of fertility. They were also associated with magic because of the inexplicable birth of a living creature from such a strange object. To harness the eggs’ special powers, people would bury them beneath the foundations of buildings to ward off evil, and they’d be placed on thresholds for newlyweds to step over when they entered their homes for the first time.

the message is in the egg

Eggs have also been used to smuggle secret messages. During the Spanish Inquisition, Italian scholar, polymath and playwright Giambattista della Porta found a way to write secret messages on the inside of the unbroken shell. Seemingly intact, they were the only thing not checked at the gate of the prison where some of his friends were being held.
How did he do it? First, della Porta wrote on the egg shell using a mixture of plant pigments and alum. The ink penetrated the shell, and once it had dried, he boiled the egg in hot water and the ink on the outside washed away. The recipient in prison peeled off the shell to reveal the message on the egg white.

egg face

Like the prison guards, it never occurred to us to write on the inside of eggs, but growing up, we used to scoop out and eat our boiled eggs carefully so we didn’t break the shell. Then we’d turn the shell upside down in the egg cup and draw faces on the outside. Inevitably, we’d tell mum we weren’t hungry so we weren’t going to eat our eggs today. Of course, she never fell for it. My sister Vanessa always drew the best faces. Look at the ones we drew this Easter. We might not be eggstraordinarily gifted artists, but it’s all good fun. Which one do you like best? Vote in  the comments, and while you’re here, share your egg stories.


egg art

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smell of old books


“A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.”
Matija Strlič

Have you ever noticed how new books smell different from old books? This is because the pages of old books contain higher levels of lignin and other compounds. As these degrade, they release volatile organic compounds which reach our noses as the sweet, musky aroma of vanilla, almond, or chocolate, often mingling with smells absorbed from the book’s environment, like smoke or cat dander.
Matija Strlič and Cecilia Bembibre from University College London have developed a technique to sniff the gases given off by old books to capture their scent, and help monitor the health of the books for preservation purposes. The library of aromas they are collecting could also one day be used for multi-sensory experiences in museums or galleries. “As a society living at this point in time, which smells do we want our kids to inherit?” Bembibre says.


almond pages

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