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Adorning Eleanore Gray’s big sugar  Easter eggs  has become a local tradition

  • Cody West of Hadley, 8, decorates a sugar Easter eggs, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Cody West of Hadley, 8, decorates a sugar Easter eggs, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michelle Davenport, left, of Palmer watches daughter Gabi Ventura, 3, pipe frosting onto a sugar Easter egg Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Churc in Hadley. Davenport made her first eggs with Eleanor Gray when as an elementary school student in Belchertown.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Michelle Davenport, left, of Palmer watches daughter Gabi Ventura, 3, pipe frosting onto a sugar Easter egg Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Churc in Hadley. Davenport made her first eggs with Eleanor Gray when as an elementary school student in Belchertown.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Harry West of Hadley, 5, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Harry West of Hadley, 5, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Audrey and Cody West of Hadley, both 8, decorate sugar Easter eggs, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Audrey and Cody West of Hadley, both 8, decorate sugar Easter eggs, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Emma Arcouette of Belchertown, 5, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Emma Arcouette of Belchertown, 5, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Decorated sugar Easter eggs are placed in a box for travel, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Decorated sugar Easter eggs are placed in a box for travel, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sugar Easter eggs are decorated, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Sugar Easter eggs are decorated, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michelle Davenport of Palmer, left, laughs after daughter Gabi Ventura, 3, eats frosting off of a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. Eleanore Gray, center, looks on.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Michelle Davenport of Palmer, left, laughs after daughter Gabi Ventura, 3, eats frosting off of a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. Eleanore Gray, center, looks on.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christian Ciolkos of Hadley, 7, left, reacts to his decorated sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. His father, David Ciolkos, looks on.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Christian Ciolkos of Hadley, 7, left, reacts to his decorated sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. His father, David Ciolkos, looks on.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christian Ciolkos of Hadley, left, shows amazement at his artistry as instructor Eleanore Gray and David Ciolkos look on.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Christian Ciolkos of Hadley, left, shows amazement at his artistry as instructor Eleanore Gray and David Ciolkos look on.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Aldona Noonan, 15, second from left, puts frosting on the nose of Christian Ciolkos, center, while Nikola Noonan, right, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. Marianna Noonan looks on, at left. All are from Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Aldona Noonan, 15, second from left, puts frosting on the nose of Christian Ciolkos, center, while Nikola Noonan, right, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. Marianna Noonan looks on, at left. All are from Hadley.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>

    Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>

    Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.

    Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>

    Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>

    Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>

    Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Eleanor Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>


    Eleanor Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cody West of Hadley, 8, decorates a sugar Easter eggs, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Michelle Davenport, left, of Palmer watches daughter Gabi Ventura, 3, pipe frosting onto a sugar Easter egg Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Churc in Hadley. Davenport made her first eggs with Eleanor Gray when as an elementary school student in Belchertown.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Harry West of Hadley, 5, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Audrey and Cody West of Hadley, both 8, decorate sugar Easter eggs, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Emma Arcouette of Belchertown, 5, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Decorated sugar Easter eggs are placed in a box for travel, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Sugar Easter eggs are decorated, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Michelle Davenport of Palmer, left, laughs after daughter Gabi Ventura, 3, eats frosting off of a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. Eleanore Gray, center, looks on.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Christian Ciolkos of Hadley, 7, left, reacts to his decorated sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. His father, David Ciolkos, looks on.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Christian Ciolkos of Hadley, left, shows amazement at his artistry as instructor Eleanore Gray and David Ciolkos look on.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Aldona Noonan, 15, second from left, puts frosting on the nose of Christian Ciolkos, center, while Nikola Noonan, right, decorates a sugar Easter egg, Sunday, at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley. Marianna Noonan looks on, at left. All are from Hadley.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>
  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>
  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.
  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>
  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>
  • Eleanore Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>
  • <br/>Eleanor Gray makes shells for sugar Easter eggs that will be decorated before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Hadley.<br/>

They go by a different names: panoramic sugar Easter eggs, sugar Easter eggs or sometimes the more generic term decorative Easter eggs. They’re the ones that, when you were a kid, might have looked like the tastiest treat in your Easter basket — the big ones, decorated with swirls of colorful icing, like the kind you’d see on a cake.

But appearances can be deceiving.

“They’re not really meant to eat,” said Eleanore Gray with a laugh. “Of course, that doesn’t prevent some kids from trying.”

Gray, 70, of Belchertown, has been making panoramic sugar Easter eggs off and on since the mid 1970s, when she worked as a parent volunteer with children in the Belchertown Elementary School, holding Eastertime workshops to show students how to decorate the big ovals. She made them at home with her three daughters when they were younger and with other family and friends, and in more recent years she’s made them with her four grandchildren.

Some of her former elementary school students have even reconnected with her over the last few years, hoping to get some lessons for their own children on decorating the eggs. So Gray has hosted workshops for this new generation of Easter artists at her home, and for the past three years she’s also organized a free session the weekend before Easter at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley, where she works as a secretary.

“The kids enjoy doing it, but a lot of the parents like to join in, too,” she said.

Tradition goes on

Last Sunday, it was like a trip down memory lane for Michelle Davenport of Palmer, who first decorated sugar eggs with Gray in Belchertown Elementary School in the 1970s. Davenport was one of about 30 people — children and parents — who came by Most Holy Redeemer’s large activity room to put together and decorate egg halves that Gray had made at home.

Gray had scooped out the interiors of the egg halves and provided small decorations — flowers, bunnies, bits of dried, colored coconut — that are used to create small Easter scenes in the center of the eggs. The church covers her expenses for these and her other materials.

Davenport brought her daughter Gabi, who is 3 but is already a veteran of these sessions. Gabi was happily squeezing icing on the outside of her egg and munching on some of it as well.

“This feels like such a great tradition to be passing on,” Davenport said. “Here I am, doing the same thing with my daughter that I did when I was a kid.”

Across the round table was Davenport’s old school buddy Janet Zajak of Belchertown, who brought her two daughters, Stephanie, 15, and Molly, 12, to the workshop. Zajak had made a clutch of eggs with Gray back in the 1970s, including one that had survived until last year.

“We would take it out and display it every Easter,” Zajak said. “It finally broke. That was a sad day in our house.”

To be admired

Sugar eggs, in theory, are edible: They’re made of hardened granulated sugar, after all, and the hardened icing on them, known as Royal icing, is made of powdered sugar, water and a little egg white. But that’s not their purpose. About six inches long, somewhat like a miniature football, they’re meant to be looked at and to celebrate Easter, with hollowed-out interiors filled with holiday scenes.

Gray figures she’s made well over 2,000 sugar eggs over the years, working with two plastic molds that she handles gingerly, fearing she won’t be able to replace them.

“I’ve had them for years. I’ve looked in different places for new ones, on the Internet, and I’ve never seen this type anywhere. Maybe they’re not made anymore.”

She said there was no particular family tradition for making the big eggs in her childhood home: “I didn’t learn this from my mother or grandmother or anything like that.” She got interested in the craft after she mastered cake decorating.

The process is pretty straightforward. She mixes granulated sugar with a small amount of water — about two teaspoons of water per pound, or two cups, of sugar — to get sugar that’s roughly the consistency of damp sand. Then she firmly packs the sugar mix into the molds, each of which is shaped like half an egg, and scrapes excess mix from the open side of the mold with a small knife.

After the mixture has begun to set, she loosens it onto a flat surface and carefully cuts away part of one end of the half-egg; this will serve as the window into the interior of the finished, decorated egg. After the half-egg has dried for a few hours, she hollows out the interior, then sets the structure aside to dry overnight.

She packs the hardened egg halves in plastic bags when she’s ready to transport them to Holy Redeemer Church or other locations where she holds egg-decorating sessions, like The Arbors, an Amherst assisted-living facility.

There’s nothing complicated about decorating them, she said, although the challenge with younger children is to convince them that less is more. “They tend to really load the icing on,” she said with a chuckle.

As she circulated around the room Sunday, saying hello to familiar faces and helping out a child here and there, she said she’s told her young artists for years that there’s glue in the icing and that they shouldn’t eat it. “Doesn’t seem to stop them,” she joked.

Zajak’s younger daughter, Molly, put graceful, alternating lines of pink and yellow icing across the top of her egg. Gabi, Davenport’s young daughter, was taking more of a Jackson Pollack approach to her egg, with icing dabbed here and there — including around her mouth.

“Give her a few more years and she’ll get there,” Davenport said.

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