Saturday Six #21: Colors for Easter

One of the most gratifying things I do at my job is creating egg dyes from natural ingredients, so I’ve decided to post a Saturday Six early this week, in case anyone is inspired to give it a try.

Typically, we would make the dyes and take them, along with a history lesson, to hundreds of local students every spring, talking about Easter traditions and the process of dyeing. Even though I haven’t been able to take this program into any classrooms, last year and this year I still made the dyes and created virtual lessons. There’s something incredibly satisfying about chopping vegetables and boiling powders, then dropping eggs into mason jars of colored liquid. It makes me feel ever-so-slightly self-sufficient, and it’s incredible the beautiful, muted colors nature gives us.

In general, I boiled each item in about two cups of water for thirty minutes, but there are a few tricks to making and using the natural dyes:

For everything except onion skins, I added a teaspoon or two of white vinegar. This acts as a mordant, an agent that helps the color stick to the eggshell (or the fibers, whatever it is you happen to be dyeing). 

Keeping an eye on the pot is essential! I know this because last year, I let all the water boil off the cabbage, and the resulting smell was very unpleasant. Keep the pots covered and your eye on the water level, adding more when necessary.

I let all the liquids cool completely with the ingredients still in the pot. This allows even more color to leech into the water. Once it was cool, I strained out the solids and put the liquid into a mason jar.

To dye hard-boiled eggs, it’s helpful if the eggs are still warm when plunged into the dye. A warm eggshell takes color better than a cold one.

All of these colors can stain clothing and even temporarily stain hard surfaces, so be cautious!

So now that you’re curious, what colors did I make?

Pink. Shredding beets might make your hands and counter look like a crime scene, but it also makes a lovely pink dye. The color does fade quickly, though. (Use 1.5 cups shredded beets.)

Orange/Rust. I made this color by boiling onion skins, and the tannins already present in the skins make vinegar unnecessary. I was especially excited this year to boil the skins over the fire in our kitchen house. (Use the skins of 7 yellow onions.)

Cooking at the hearth, one of my favorite job duties.

Yellow. I placed ground turmeric in a clean, knee-high nylon sock. Some of the powder does still escape into the liquid, and then it settles at the bottom of the mason jar. (Use 3 TBS turmeric.)

Green. Green is tricky. Think chlorophyll, the substance that makes plants green, and then think about fall, when all the green disappears. Even though green is the most abundant color in nature, it’s the most temporary. I got a really, really pale green by using kale. (Use 2 cups chopped kale.)

Blue. This one is fun. The cabbage is purple, and the liquid dye is purple, but the egg turns out a remarkable sky blue. This dye also takes some time. I left the egg in for 15-20 minutes to achieve this shade. (Use 1.5 cups chopped cabbage.)

Purple/Indigo. This color came from blueberries, and I did “cheat” a little by using frozen ones. I’ve seen firsthand what frozen blueberries do to my kids’ mouths, and they really do make a lovely dye, too. (Use 1.5 cups frozen blueberries.)

Bonus Color: Brown. You can dye an egg in super-strong coffee, but I find this a little boring because it just turns out…well, brown, like a regular old brown egg.

L to R: Beets, Onion Skins, Turmeric, Kale, Purple Cabbage, Blueberries

As in most instances, I don’t love any of the individual colors as much as I love them all together. It’s a perfect pastel palette, isn’t it? And the best part is that I get to take home the leftovers and dye eggs with my own family. If you decide to give it a go, I’d love to see your pictures in the comments.

Happy Easter!

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