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Candy Easter eggs benefit St. John FWB Church

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Pictured are the “egg makers” at a recent workday at. St. John Free Will Baptist Church. They include (l-r) Betty Ingram, Hazel Jarrett, Pearl Markland and Dimple Whitely.

Forget the goose that laid the golden egg — the church ladies who make the chocolate eggs make for a much better story.
For the past 10 or 12 years, Mrs. Pearl Markland and several other ladies at St. John Free Will Baptist Church have spent the Lenten season turning out hand-dipped, decorated chocolate Easter eggs. Loads of them.
“We have made as many as 4,000 some years,” said Markland, who is 87 years old and one of the oldest members of the church. Markland leads the core of volunteers who labor long hours to make the eggs.
It’s nothing unusual for the three or four “egg ladies” to make 200 eggs a day in the weeks leading up to Easter. This past Tuesday their goal was 300.
The eggs are a crackin’ good fundraiser. Money raised from the sale of the eggs goes to the Ladies Circle of St. John Free Will, helping them continue to serve the community.
“We use the money to help the widows, those who are sick, and in need of help with their electric bill or who need groceries,” Markland said.
The project got its start when Markland’s daughter, who attended a Johnson City church that made the eggs, shared the recipe with the St. John ladies. She also gave them some molds to get them started.
The ladies put in several hours each day making the eggs. They mix the chocolate, prepare the peanut butter, coconut and maple cream recipes, and mold the eggs.
After the candy mixture has been shaped into eggs, it is given time to harden a bit. Then the eggs are dipped into a large pot of chocolate. The eggs are then trimmed and decorated with icing spread into the shape of flowers and other adornments and individually wrapped or bagged.
The ladies price the eggs for $1.25 each. They are sold by the ladies and other church members. Church volunteers also tote the eggs to stores and restaurants in the Roan Mountain community, where the candy is sold with no mark-up for the outlets. They are also sold at businesses in Johnson City and in neighboring North Carolina.
Up until this year, the eggs sold for a dollar each, but with the price of sugar and other ingredients on the rise, the ladies were forced to raise the price by a quarter. “That’s not bad, is it?” asked Markland.
Some of the eggs survive to appear in Easter baskets, gift bags or on platters at Easter dinner. Some eggs land in a freezer, waiting to be plucked from storage and savored throughout the year.
Others are sent to friends out of town.
“This is a significant fundraiser for our church, but it’s also a mission thing. People look for these eggs every year — it’s a sign of spring,” said Markland. She was quick to point out that although less than a half dozen women work at making the eggs, the entire congregation is involved. “They help us sell them and often donate supplies,” she said.
“The peanut butter eggs are our best sellers,” said Markland, who noted that the ladies mix enough ingredients to make 20 eggs at a time. The confectioners turn out dozens of handmade eggs in the weeks before Easter.
The dying art endures in an age of hollow bunnies and plastic eggs.
“We use a lot of powdered sugar to make the eggs, along with butter, peanut butter and milk,” Markland said.
“Making the Easter eggs isn’t hard, but it is constant. You’re tired by the end of the day, but I enjoy it, as do the other ladies. It’s for a good cause, and the fellowship is good,” Markland added.
Dimple Whitely, who along with Betty Ingram and Hazel Jarrett, have helped with the egg making this year said, “We love making the eggs, and we have a lot of fun. At the same time we are doing something for the Lord.”
“We will work, we will play, and we will make those eggs everyday,” quipped Whitely as she and Markland molded a batch of the eggs.
Observing Tuesday’s work was Hazel’s husband, R.E. Jarrett, who also helps wherever he can. He makes a few deliveries for the ladies as well as sampling a few just to make sure “they taste good.”
In Roan Mountain, the ladies have become well-known for the chocolate-covered peanut butter and coconut-cream Easter eggs. “It has become as much a tradition as our apple butter in the fall,” said Markland.
She noted that the church volunteers make several gallons of apple butter, which is canned and sold with the funds used for various church projects. “Just like the eggs, we have some who come every year to get their apple butter,” Markland said.
Now that the Easter season is winding down, so is the Easter egg factory at St. John Free Will Baptist Church. In the meantime, Markland will be busy gardening and canning during the summer months. “I put up everything I can,” she said.
She also does a lot of visiting and cares for sick people when the need arises.