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One Sweet Tradition: Wheeling Family Has Spent Generations Perfecting Confectionery Craft

WHEELING — A box of thin-shelled Easter eggs — formed from tinted sugar and hope — stood ready in one corner of a Warwood kitchen. On the table, yet more of the eggs were in various stages of assembly.

Those already in holiday finery were decorated from the inside out. Such treats as tiny, foil-wrapped chocolates shaped like carrots, coconut “grass” tinted to a bright, spring green or bunnies intended to melt in one’s mouth peeked from holes cut in one side or the end of each egg.

And, on the outside, notably hard frosting covered seams and edges with colorful, piped-on precision.

The technique to make such confections has been honed over decades. Indeed, each fantastical egg is the result of a sweet dream that started when maker Sandy Murray was a small girl with her nose pressed — figuratively if not literally — against a glass display case.

A KID IN A CANDY SHOP

Leed’s candy shop stood near the current site of WesBanco, Murray recalled with a laugh. “My mom would take us in (for other candy), but we never got the eggs.”

When Murray herself had children, however, that memory of sweets seen but not tasted swam to the surface.

Already a skilled cookie baker and cake decorator, she found a Wilton cookbook that included a recipe for the molded sugar eggs and set to work.

“I made them for everyone in the class,” she said of going big enough one year to share the results of her labors with her children’s classmates at Warwood Elementary. It was a bittersweet occasion, she joked.

“Some of the kids have kept those over the years. Other kids, the minute they saw they were sugar, they smashed them and started eating them.”

Murray’s daughter, Shannon Schell of Warwood, remembers that moment, which happened in her third-grade year. She said the teacher was horrified that some eggs met such an early demise, but Murray said she really didn’t care — even then. An Easter treat is meant to be a sweet dream.

A family tradition of creating intricate Easter eggs from sugar began when Warwood resident Sandy Murray (seated) was a child and saw such treats at a downtown candy shop. Now, her daughter Shannon Schell (standing, left) and granddaughter Samantha Wilds, both of Warwood, are also in on the activity. The family produces about 200 of the highly decorated eggs each spring. Most are given to friends and family. (Photo by Nora Edinger)

PRECISION CRAFTING

That is true, Murray said, even if the treat production is a multi-week process. She gave a rundown of what each egg entails, noting she rarely makes them herself at this point because of arthritis and fatigue with the craft.

Schell and her own daughter, Samantha Wilds, have mostly taken over the tradition to the tune of some 200 eggs per year. Wilds said the work usually begins in January, but certainly no later than Valentine’s Day.

First, Schell explained, precisely moistened sugar is pressed into molds of various sizes that are shaped like half an egg. The result is popped out and the half must then dry from the outside in.

It’s a process that takes two or three weeks and, on a couple of occasions, has been short-circuited by ants or ladybugs, Murray noted. But, when the halves are dried uneventfully, even more delicate work begins.

First, the inner part of the egg must be carefully scooped out with a spoon until all that is left is a shell about a quarter-inch thick. That is surprisingly noisy work, Schell noted, admitting with a grin that she once annoyed a now ex-husband with particularly vigorous hollowing of the eggs one Easter season.

“The molding isn’t too difficult,” Murray said. “But, when you cut out the hole, a lot of breakage can happen. And, you can’t reuse the sugar unless you use it in tea or something.”

Murray noted that the tiny decorations for the eggs’ interiors have become tougher to find over the years. She strives for entirely edible, just in case. But, sometimes, she places toy soldiers or even MineCraft figures inside if the occasion calls for it.

SHAREWARE

In the early days of making the eggs, Murray said she did engage in a bit of sales. One entrepreneurial niece enjoyed taking them door to door and did a brisk business. Murray gave her three-quarters of the profits.

“It was just a hobby,” Murray said of giving most of the eggs to family and friends. “I didn’t make them to make any money.”

Schell, who began making the eggs in earnest when Wilds grew interested in the craft while in high school, continues on that tradition. Sometimes, she said, the giving is a bit random. She carries an egg or two with her during the Easter season, ready to give them away.

“There was this woman looking in the candy aisle at Walmart, ‘I just can’t decide what to get my granddaughter,’ ” Schell said of a spontaneous gift. “I said, ‘Well, here,” and she looked at me like I was crazy.”

Whether the eggs go into a classroom or a Walmart shopper’s bag, the family is committed to keeping the tradition alive. Wilds, who would like to try a molded sugar Christmas ornament, is now teaching her eldest daughter, 5-year-old Audrey, to make the eggs.

“Audrey, we have to let her do her own eggs because she likes to lick everything,” Schell joked of setting them aside for now.

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