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Food for Thought
In my household, Easter is as anticipated as Christmas. The decorations are up a month before the big day, and the menu is changed again and again as new recipes are found. Easter candy is purchased, put into the many decorative dishes, and then is purchased anew, as the chocolate eggs and jelly beans quickly disappear. Often, in desperation, I give up and buy sour jelly eggs and inexpensive salt water taffy. These usually languish attractively in their dishes until Easter is over.
Even with the kids grown and gone, I still feel the urge to decorate eggs. Without little ones to please this year, I am moving from gaudy glow-in-the-dark color tablets to natural dyes. I love the subtle color variations that can be found using spices and vegetables.
Dyeing with onion skins
My favorite method uses onion skins. Little sprigs of fresh herbs and greenery from your yard make delicate scenes when placed against the eggshell before wrapping the egg in damp onion skins and cloth, and boiling the little bundles.
What you'll need
You'll need eggs, of course. Raw eggs . . . do not hard-cook them. I used brown and green eggs, and they were lovely, but white eggs will give you more contrast. You'll also need squares of cloth. Cut an old white sheet (or dishtowel, or T-shirt) into seven-inch squares. Gather some six-inch pieces of yarn, string, or twine.
Plan on peeling some onions! You just want the papery outer skin from yellow or red onions. Figure on approximately one onion per egg. (I chopped up the denuded onions and froze them in plastic bags to add to stews and soups.) Yellow onion skins will give the eggs brown and gold tones, while red onion skins will, oddly enough, add some green touches. Both are beautiful.
Use your imagination for the little pieces of greenery and "whatever" that will make the designs on your eggs. I used fresh thyme and sage, little pieces of blue spruce, celery leaves, grass blades, cooked rice noodles (though I think spaghetti noodles would work, too), split peas, beans, and rice. I also tried artificial flowers from a wreath I had, but the plastic stems stuck to the eggs. I don't recommend that!
Wrapping and boiling
Soak your onion skins briefly to soften them. Place a square of fabric on a flat surface, then put a couple of pieces of onion skin in the center of the cloth, and add some of your design materials on the skins. Don't overdo itjust a few well-placed objects create beautiful designs. If small children are helping, I recommend giving them celery leaves to work with. They stick well and aren't as challenging for small hands.
Dip your egg in water to help everything cling to it, and place it in the center of your "arrangement." Add more design materials, and then cover with more onion skins. You want the onion skins to cover the entire egg. With encouragement, the obliging little onion skins will cup the egg nicely.
It gets a little tricky here because everything wants to move around on you, so carefully pull the cloth up around the whole mess snugly, and tie it at the top with the string. When all of your egg bundles are finished, put them in a pan and cover them with water. Bring it to a boil and cook for about twelve minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately fill with cold water. When the eggs are cool, remove everything that isn't egg and admire enthusiastically! Rub them gently with a little vegetable oil to make them shine.
Steaming your eggs
Hard-cooked eggs will be used for all the other natural dye options. Did you know that the fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel? We have very, very fresh eggs here, thanks to our sixteen chickens, but I recently learned the trick to consistently perfect hard-cooked eggs: I steam them. Since I started steaming instead of boiling, I haven't had a single egg with green around the yolk, and the shells practically fall off. Here's how you do it.
I usually cook a dozen eggs at a time, so I use my big soup kettle. You'll need a steaming rack of some sort. Some big pots come with them, but I use my little metal vegetable steamer. Put enough water in the pan so that when the steamer filled with eggs is added, the water almost touches the steamer. Bring the water to a boil and carefully lower the steamer with the eggs in it. Be as gentle as you can when you do this, but don't dally . . . that steam is very hot! I prefer to tempt fate, but you may want to use an oven mitt. Put a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to medium high, and set the timer for fourteen minutes. When the eggs are done, put the pan in the sink and cover the eggs with lots of cold water. That's it! Absolutely perfect eggs.
Using natural colors
For natural colors, use your imagination (and Google like crazy) to come up with your own combinations. For the eggs pictured below I used beets, carrots and turmeric, red cabbage, and onion skins. I tried to make green with frozen spinach, but it didn't work very well. Maybe that's because I had to dig to the bottom of the chest freezer to find spinach, and it was three years old. I'm sure fresh leaves would have made a huge difference.
If I hadn't been fed up with the mess, I would have tried raspberries, chili powder, and grape juice. I would not, however, have tried red wine. I shudder to think of the waste.
Making natural dyes
Put about a quart of water in a pan. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and of vegetable or spice of choice. I chopped up a whole red cabbage for blue (yes, blue!); about 2 cups of chopped beets for a rich pink; and 3 chopped carrots and 1 tablespoon of turmeric, which made a gorgeous shade of yellow. Simmer your vegetables for about a half hour and then strain the liquid into a bowl or large mug and let the mixture cool down a bit. These aren't instant colorsyour eggs may need to soak for an hour or more.
*SAFETY NOTE* Since hard-cooked eggs should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, if you want really vibrant colors, you may need to let the eggs soak in the dye in the refrigerator.
After your eggs have dried and been duly admired, a light coating of oil will make them glossy and bring out the color.
For a fun project or one-of-a-kind gift, make a panoramic sugar eggthough I'll bet you can't stop at just one. They're so much fun you'll probably end up with a sugar-egg factory on your kitchen table like I have right now. My shoes are sticking to the floor, every bowl in the house is in use, but I'm in creative heaven.
More Easter treats
If you're not frantic to get out of the kitchen yet, there's more. So much more! Bird and lamb rolls, chocolate eggs, cinnamon bunnies. And I haven't even told you about our family's Easter Beer Hunt. That will just have to wait until next year, I guess.
That does itI'm officially out of the kitchen for the day. I'll be the woman with her feet (sticky shoes and all) up on the hassock, book in hand, eating from a secret stash of marshmallow eggs!
Contact Lorinda at email@example.com
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.