“I wish I could find white eggs in South Africa” I complained to a South African friend one day. I had spent the previous week going from grocery store to grocery store, finding nothing but brown eggs.
In the states I loved seeking out brown eggs to add variety to our colors of dyed Easter eggs. Brown eggs take on pretty earth tones in the dye. The Easter before we moved to South Africa, I even found a local farmer with eggs from an Americaus chicken (aka the “Easter Egg Chicken”) which naturally produces eggs in shades of blue and green!
She looked at me incredulously: “But white eggs are everywhere now, because of Easter!” My eyes lit up and I began interrogating her on where I might find them. She pointed to the nearest grocery store.I followed her gaze to see the entryway rack of tiered Easter candy. I asked, “Where? Next to the candy?”
“What do you mean?” Her look of confusion was growing, “White eggs are candy. Chocolate-coated candy eggs.” It turns out those white candy eggs would keep deceiving me as I went from store to store in search of white chicken eggs. Many varieties of the candy were the same shape, size and even egg-crated packaged like chicken eggs. I started to resent those little candy clones.
I began asking after white chicken eggs at every restaurant, coffee shop and South African resident I came across. The best suggestion was to hit the Saturday morning markets at the local farmers’ stalls and ask there. My friend suggested duck eggs, which turned out to be a very good idea since duck eggs are a pretty shade of off-white.
I resolved to make a very early morning the following Saturday, at the Silverton Market near Pretoria. It officially opens at 5:30 but I learned after a few visits that 5:30 already puts you in a line of traffic to park winding to the huge market, and by 6:00 there are too many people to enjoy wandering the stalls. I began arriving weekly at 5:15, getting to know local egg producers and finally finding an organic, free-range poultry farmer who sells “white” eggs (the lightest brown achievable by feed changes) on pre-order. I also found a farmer with off-white duck eggs.
I knew I wouldn’t find true white eggs by Easter, but I had solved (as close as possible with the holiday approaching) the white egg dilemma, and even added quail eggs to my cache, from a vendor everyone lovingly calls the “crazy Russian farmer.” Since I knew my next task would be finding American-style Easter ham, I also acquired cloves at the Silverton market. There was a small table on which a spice vendor was fully stocked with foot-high bags of spices and some herbs. I purchased baggies of cloves, fennel (for my monthly lasagna), hearty peppercorns and a few herbs to boot.
I focused my attention, then, on finding ham. It turns out that “ham” in America is what South Africans call “gammon.” But believe me, the usual gammon purchased in the stores here doesn’t taste like the ham we Yankees purchase for Easter. I read several articles discussing the reasons why they taste so different and it seems the consensus is that while both names refer to the same part of the pig (the hind leg), the difference in taste is due to how it is processed and the length of time it is smoked or cured.
As much as we love ham, I was surprised my husband didn’t seem to reach his limit of taste-testing all the ham/gammon I’ve been buying and cooking in preparation for the “perfect” Easter dinner.
One day he arrived home after I had been to a local German butchery on the advice of a friend, only to find two large hams in the fridge. Though both were pre-cooked and tasted more like lunchmeat ham than roasted ham, I decided to try turning them into Easter ham anyway, by heating both using a family recipe that included cloves, pineapples in syrup and maraschino cherries. Of course being in South Africa, I struggled to find canned pineapples rings and maraschino cherries. The cherries I kept finding in grocery stores were a glazed, sugary confection used in baking desserts, and the pineapple was either in chunks or crushed, or fresh.
For my first attempt I skipped the cherries and used pineapple chunks in syrup. I grabbed my newly purchased baggie of cloves from the cupboard. They weren’t as big as the cloves I’ve purchased in the states, and I was surprised they had no “tail.” But I figured “TIA” (This is Africa) and finished rushing through getting the hams in to roast so they would be ready for dinner.
Neither ham from the German butcher tasted enough like the American ham we were used to. Despite having ruined the glaze of the first one after realizing that the reason those cloves didn’t seem right was because it turned out I had used the baggie of large peppercorns instead, the meat itself still didn’t taste like anything more than heated up lunchmeat.
I experimented some more, and the closest in taste I’ve found is a smoked gammon from Woolworths Grocery Chain. It’s a bit more expensive but worth the price for a traditional Easter ham. I remembered that we had seen maraschino cherries in bars, so I was able to turn to a local bar to get them. The ham is still chewier than what we’re used to, but the taste is divine.
With eggs and ham sorted, my next challenge was that South Africa doesn’t seem to have traditional American food coloring. The only kind of food dye I’ve found has been dye gel which is blended into icing for cakes and other baked goods. I purchased containers in different colors, and in the meantime I begged some friends who would be flying in from the states to please bring me an Easter egg dye kit.
They obliged, but it turned out there was no urgent need for the American kit. I experimented with the gels, using the hot water and vinegar method, and got some beautifully-colored eggs. The last hurdle was to find traditional wax crayons so our African friends could use the white crayon to write their names onto the eggs before dying. The nearby stores didn’t have any, but thankfully another American expat (with children) was kind enough to let me have one of hers.
It has been a lot of work to prepare for a Yankee Easter in South Africa. But we have African friends who have never heard of dying eggs, and they aren’t entirely sure of the merits of this American tradition we’re inviting them to. But I’m convinced they’ll have fun and be as excited as I am to dye eggs on Good Friday and to eat a delicious meal of ham, deviled eggs and an assortment of side dishes on Easter Sunday.
In the meantime, I decided to try one of those candied white eggs, and I see why my South African friend endorses them so readily. Those chocolate “white eggs” are delicious!
An American Expat in South Africa, Marla is a freelance writer and global explorer. She creates travel adventures for herself following in the footsteps of her favorite authors. An American expat, she currently lives in Pretoria, South Africa, where she blogs her adventures on travelingmarla.com and is revising her first manuscript.