The traditions of decorating, eating, and giving of Easter eggs is ubiquitous in communities throughout the United States. As an expression of new life and the coming of spring, the decorating of eggs is practiced in many cultures throughout the world, and Pennsylvania was the New World point of origin of Easter egg traditions in North America. The German-speaking immigrants arriving in Pennsylvania prior to the American Revolution introduced these the concept of decorated eggs to the Eastern United States, but later waves of German-American and Eastern European immigrants reinforced and diversified the tradition throughout the continent.
The most common means of decorating Easter eggs among the Pennsylvania Dutch was by hard boiling them with natural materials, such as onion skins to produce red, red cabbage to produce green (if allowed to oxidize), walnut hulls for deep brown, hickory bark for yellow, and reconstituted berry juices or beets for pink and magenta. A little vinegar in the dye is what allowed the dye to attach to the surface of the egg. If natural materials were wrapped around the eggs or kept in close contact, it would produce a mottled appearance.
Eggs that cracked while dyeing were reserved for eating, while those with rich solid colors were traditionally scratched with a pen knife or needle to produce patterns by revealing the bright white of the shell under the dye. Scratched eggs often featured inscriptions of names, dates, initials, and a wide variety of imagery including birds, flowers, animals, stars, and geometric patterns.
Some of the earliest surviving examples of this Pennsylvania Dutch cultural expression are from the late 18th century, while 19th-century examples are fairly common in local museums and cultural collections. The Heritage Center at Kutztown University is honored to preserve a collection of decorated eggs by the prolific Pennsylvania Dutch artist, poet, and musician Peter V. Fritsch (1945-2015) of Longswamp Township, Berks County. Peter created these eggs each year as gifts for friends and family, and his work features a combination of scratched, painted, and inscribed eggs highlighting the diversity of techniques in this living Pennsylvania tradition.