Dye Easter Eggs in Nature's Huescomments (14) March 21st, 2012
This year, color your Easter eggs with dyes derived from garden vegetables, berries, coffee, tea, or spices. Learn the method, and get a recipe for a basic egg dye and an onion skin dye.
A cup of coffee isn’t the first place I would have expected to find nature. It was my father’s cup, one of many strewn across the kitchen table one Easter eve long ago. The other cups fizzed with those little crayon-colored tablets; the acrid vinegar stung our eyes and noses. My mother eyed my father’s coffee and impulsively plopped in a hard-boiled egg. I scanned the pictures on the back of the dye kit box for a coffee cup while my 6-year-old mind wondered if using coffee was allowed.
When the egg emerged smooth and caramel brown, the quest for natural Easter egg dyes began. We searched the refrigerator for beets and raspberries, and scoured cupboards for the spices that would give us vivid golds and reds. Our hunt led us into the garden with shears and spades, clipping carrot tops and spinach leaves, and digging for onion skins.
The seeds of experimentation were planted deep, for I’ve yet to lose my inherited curiosity or my love of colors the earth provides. There’s always a new garden denizen to consider, another leaf to coax into a feathery stenciled design. It’s a simple process and an inexact science—more art, really, with room for improvisation.
How to dye Easter eggs
|Dye sources, and the colors they produce
Following are the dye sources I’ve found to yield the richest colors. Remember to use only edible plants or portions of plants (no rhubarb leaves, for example).
|• Onion skins||marbleized oranges and yellows|
|• Onion skins with unsprayed rose petals||peachy hues with green or yellow tints|
|• Shredded red cabbage||midnight blue and teal|
|• Beet root||brown with a purple cast|
|• Beet tops||dove gray|
|• Spinach||pale green|
|• Carrots||yellow with olive overtones|
|• Carrot tops||soft gold|
|• Blue potatoes||muted teal|
|• Grape juice||deep lavender (for a lovely crystallized sugar coating, let the egg dry without rinsing)|
|• Blueberries (frozen is fine)||deep blue|
|• Raspberries (frozen is fine)||light fuchsia|
|• Blackberries (frozen is fine)||plum|
|• Coffee||milk-chocolate brown|
|• Black tea
|• Cinnamon||subdued mahogany|
|• Paprika||light orange|
|• Turmeric||vivid gold|
|NOTE: Beware of using cayenne. When it is boiled in water, its vapors permeate the air and can irritate the|
I start with fresh, clean, white eggs placed in a stainless steel or enamel pan. You can experiment with brown eggs, but they don’t absorb color as well. Then I add the dyestuff—leaves, flowers, vegetable peelings, spices, roots. I rinse the vegetable matter, especially if it isn’t organic or doesn’t come from my own garden.
Next I add water to cover the eggs and dye materials. I use water slightly warmer than the eggs to reduce the risk of cracking. A little vinegar helps break down components in the eggshell to allow it to absorb the dye better. Slowly, I bring it all to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until done, about 15 minutes.
At this point, I’ll either run cold tap water into the pan to stop the cooking, or leave the eggs in the dye bath up to two hours to deepen the shade. This may lead to overcooked but edible eggs, marked by green rings around the yolk. Since I’m concerned with the color of the shell, I feel it’s worth the compromise. I’ll even steep the eggs in their dye water in the refrigerator overnight for still darker hues—a safe alternative to leaving the eggs out at room temperature. Afterwards, I let the eggs air-dry, then polish them. If you plan to eat the eggs, refrigerate them, but if they’re purely decorative, you can leave them out.
This method can be applied to any natural dye source; what differs will be the amount of dyestuff used. For fresh flowers and greens, vegetable peelings, or berries, use 2 cups of material per quart of water; for dried flowers or leaves, 2 tablespoons per cup of water. For ground spices, use 2 teaspoons per cup of water. You can also experiment by substituting pure fruit juices that are rich in color in place of water and other dye materials.
Color and patterns come from the world of nature
Natural egg dyeing, like everything in nature, has its idiosyncrasies. The most obvious is the illusion of color: A plant often looks unlike the color of its dye. Red and white onion skins yield pale apricot hues; green and red beet tops produce a mauve gray. And the color of the dye bath can vary dramatically from the final dye color.
A plant may produce a different dye water when steamed rather than boiled. Add baking soda to the mix and the color will change again. Red cabbage, for instance, yields blue, celery, or teal hues depending on whether you steam the plant first, boil it, or add baking soda. That’s when the lure of experimentation ensnares you, and before long your kitchen takes on the appearance of a chemistry lab.
With natural dyes, the character of each egg emerges through markings on the dyed shell. Some appear mottled or etched like a wild bird’s egg, others absorb the dye in streaked bands. Science attributes these variations to an uneven distribution of calcium in the shell. I prefer the notion that the closer we work with nature, the more our results approximate hers.
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