Here's a culinary riddle: What do Easter, Moe's Tavern on "The Simpsons," and Amish buffets have in common?
The answer: pickled eggs.
Many home cooks still make this traditional food - eggs purple from beet juice or yellow from mustard. Most people have a strong reaction to pickled eggs - they love them or hate them.
For Jeanette Raper of Canal Fulton, Ohio, hardboiled eggs, yellow from mustard brine, is a family favorite at Easter. She also makes the red beet variety from time to time with a recipe a friend gave her more than 20 years ago.
"A lot of people don't do the old type of things anymore. It's going by the wayside I think," Raper said.
Pickled eggs can be traced back to a time there was no refrigeration, and preserving foods with salt or brine was a must.
In England, pickled eggs and pickled onions were workingman's food, and gained popularity in pubs where the eggs were on hand to accompany a pint of ale.
Even in the United States, a jar of pickled eggs was a fixture on the counter of many neighborhood taverns.
But pickled eggs have fallen off our culinary radar and sometimes reduced to the butt of jokes such as those on "The Simpsons," where the jar at Moe's tavern is a steady source of comedy.
Even the "Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book," the red-and-white plaid standard for home cooks, has dropped recipes for pickled beets and pickled eggs from its pages.
Pickled eggs were first to go, followed by pickled beets in the most recent 2002 edition, said Jan Miller, a group editor for Meredith Special Interest Media, which publishes the cookbook.
Miller said deciding what recipes are no longer relevant is delicate work for the editors. The book has kept its chapter on canning and devotes space to recipes for dill pickles and bread-and-butter pickles, but the editors felt that people aren't making and eating pickled eggs and beets like they once did.
Unlike other cases, there was no reader reaction when the recipes were dropped.
But Miller said Better Homes and Gardens recently published recipes for pickled jalapeño eggs for tailgate parties and pickled beets in its magazine.
"Sometimes it's easier to use those recipes in publications that don't have quite the long shelf life the book does," she said.
Ohio's Amish community is one reason the dish has remained popular in the state. Visitors often eat them at Amish-run restaurants and look for ways to re-create them at home.
Pickled eggs are a staple of Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish cooking for the obvious reason: preservation.
Dutchman Hospitality Group in Walnut Creek, Ohio, operates Der Dutchman Restaurant & Bakery in Walnut Creek, Plain City and Waynesville, and Dutch Valley Restaurant & Bakery in Sugarcreek, and employs many Amish and Mennonite cooks in its kitchens.
Vicki VanNatta, marketing coordinator for Dutchman Hospitality, said traditional Amish don't use electricity and often have limited refrigeration. "Pickled eggs came to be because it was a way of preserving them," she said.
Below are pickled-egg recipes, including Der Dutchman's recipe for red beet eggs, and Raper's recipe for mustard pickled eggs.
TIPS FOR MAKING HARD-BOILED EGGS
Here's how the American Egg Board recommends hard-boiling eggs.
• Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan. Add enough cold water to come at least one inch above eggs. Cover and quickly bring just to boiling. Turn off heat. If necessary, remove pan from burner to prevent further boiling.
• Let eggs stand, covered, in the hot water about 15 minutes for large eggs, 12 minutes for medium, 18 minutes for extra large. Immediately, run cold water over eggs or place them in ice water until completely cooled.
• Remember, don't leave hardboiled eggs sitting out longer than two hours. When eggs are boiled, the protective coating on the egg is washed away, making it easier for bacteria to enter the egg through its porous shell. Put hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking and eat them within a week.
RED BEET EGGS
Yield: 24 eggs
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
3 cups vinegar
1 quart red beets
2 dozen hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1. Mix sugar, water, and vinegar. Add beets and eggs and allow to sit, overnight or several days.
Source: Der Dutchman of Walnut Creek, Amish Kitchen Cooking
Yield: 8 servings
1/3 cup vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups sliced, cooked beets or 1 (15-ounce) can sliced beets, drained
Cook's note: Six hard-boiled eggs can be added to one recipe of these pickled beets to make pickled eggs.
1. In medium saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, water, cinnamon and cloves, and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Add beets. Return to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Cool.
2. Chill in liquid at least 8 hours. Drain before serving. Can be covered and stored in liquid in refrigerator up to one month.
Source: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1989 edition
Yield: 6 eggs
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water, or beet or beetroot juice
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
1 teaspoon pepper or 24 peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
6 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
1. In saucepan combine vinegar, water or beet juice, spices, peppercorns, salt and garlic. Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes.
2. Place hard-boiled eggs in bowl or jar and cover with spiced vinegar. Cover bowl or jar and refrigerate 24 hours before serving. Eggs may be kept in refrigerator for a week to 10 days.
3. To serve, cut into wedges and arrange on serving plate.
Source: "The Complete Book of Egg Cookery" by Ann Seranne
PICKLED EGGS WITH MUSTARD
Yield: 12 eggs
2 cups white vinegar
2 tablespoons mild mustard
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
6 whole cloves
12 peeled hard-boiled eggs
2 sliced onions
1. Add vinegar to mustard in saucepan. Mix in all ingredients except eggs and onions and simmer 10 minutes. Cool.
2. Pour cooled mixture over eggs and onions. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Source: Jeanette Raper, Canal Fulton, Ohio
BRITISH PUB PICKLED EGGS
Yield: 12 eggs
12 hard-boiled eggs
4 cups malt vinegar
1 finely chopped chile pepper
10 black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons allspice
1. Peel hard-boiled eggs, allow to cool, then place in large clean jar.
2. Heat vinegar, chile and spices in saucepan until liquid begins to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to about room temperature.
3. Strain liquid and pour over eggs, covering them completely.
4. Seal jar tightly with lid and store in cool, dark place for minimum of two weeks before consuming.