Eggs are a universal symbol of fertility, birth and rebirth, so their connection with the Easter holiday and – specifically the resurrection of Christ – is not a surprising one. The tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter is reported to date back as far as ancient Mesopotamia, where Christians stained eggs red as a reminder of the blood of Christ that was spilled at his crucifixion. The Christian Church adopted the custom and in addition to regarding eggs as a symbol of the resurrection, eggs were also included alongside lamb, bread and produce as food to be blessed during the religious holiday.
Whether you are among the devout, or simply a fan of Easter for the chocolate bunnies, decorating Easter eggs is a fun tradition and a great activity for the family to share together. Our girls love decorating eggs and over the years we have become increasingly committed to finding natural alternatives to the chemical-laden commercial egg dyes that are found this time of year. This Easter, we decided to look into some recipes and techniques for using fruits, vegetables and spices to create natural dyes for decorating and colouring eggs. Granted the results are not as vibrant as the saturated hues achieved using commercial dyes or food colouring, but the subtle shades and muted tones are a perfect, natural expression of the pastel tones typically associated with Easter. We tested a number of recipes, and below, we share a few of our favourites alongside some tips for achieving the best results possible.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of dyeing eggs this way is that the results are often not what you expect; either the colour of the dye doesn’t correspond to the colour of the final result, or the surface of the egg will retain more colour from some dyestuff than from others. The fact of the matter is that each egg is unique and different; no two eggs dyed this way will look the same. The point is to experiment and to enjoy the fact that the results might surprise you, but will rarely disappoint…
Prepare the Eggs:
Whether you plan on eating the eggs or not, this cold dye technique calls for the eggs to be hard boiled and then cooled before they are immersed in the dye. Begin by taking a dozen large white eggs and placing them in a saucepan filled with cool water. The water should cover the eggs by at least one inch over the top to ensure even cooking. Bring the water to a rolling boil and then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let rest for 12-14 minutes to allow the eggs to cook through. Remove the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and run them under cold water or immerse in a cold water bath until completely cool. Set the eggs on a kitchen towel or paper towels to drain.
Prepare the Dyes:
For the following recipes we boiled the ingredients in 3 cups of water and then simmered them for a half hour over low heat. The liquid was then strained using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and left to cool. Once cool, we added 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to the dyeing solution. The vinegar acts as a mordant and will help the colours fix to the eggshell.
Red Onion Skins (Red / Red Brown / Sienna) : Remove the dry skins and outer layer off a dozen medium sized red onions and mix into 3 cups of water. Boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Shredded Red Beets (Pink / Magenta / Fuchsia) : Peel and shred 4 large red beets and add them to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Frozen Blueberries (Purple / Deep Blue-Violet) : Pour contents of one full bag of frozen blueberries into 3 cups of water. Boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Hibiscus Flower or Tea (Grey / Slate Blue / Pale Blue) : Add 1/2 cup of dried hibiscus leaves or loose tea to 3 cups of water and bring to boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Red Cabbage Leaves (Light Blue/ Sky Blue / Lavender) : Chop one head of red cabbage and bring to boil in 3 cups of water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Paprika and Tumeric (Gold / Ochre / Yellow-Brown) : Add 2 tablespoons of paprika and 2 tablespoons of turmeric powder to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Saffron (Vibrant Yellow) : Add 1 tablespoon of saffron strands to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Golden Delicious apple skins and Matcha (Yellow-Green / Chartreuse) : Peel 6 pounds of golden delicious (yellow) apples and add their skins - along with a tablespoon of matcha powder to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
Once the dyes are cool and you have added the vinegar to the dyeing liquid, carefully immerse the eggs in the liquid using a slotted spoon. Using mason jars with a gasket such as Le Parfait or standard mason jars with a rim and ring works well to contain the smell of the dyeing liquids (particularly the red cabbage leaves… peee-ew). We used some Frigoverre jars from Bormioli that have silicone lids. Place the eggs in their dyes in the refrigerator and leave overnight to absorb the colour. The following day, remove the eggs from the dye and let them drain on a baking sheet or tray lined with paper towel. If you want the eggs to be shiny, you can rub a little olive oil or vegetable oil into them after they have dried. We personally prefer an eggshell (matte) finish and leave them as is.
The great thing about using these natural ingredients is that they are all compostable and/or biodegradable. Simply add the leftover organics to your compost pile or bag them for collection if your community has a municipal composting program. With the leftover apples, we like to make a homemade apple sauce while the eggs are dyeing. Here’s a particularly good recipe. The red onions can be turned into delicious pickled onions very quickly using this method here.
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