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Naturally-Colored Easter Eggs

by Jane Worthington-Roth

When my children were young, I would always buy them Paas Easter Egg Decorating Kits. The brighter the colors, the happier they were. I remember the garish neon and fluorescent colors that marked their fingertips as well as the eggs. But now that they’ve all 'left the nest' I take a more natural and subdued approach to Easter egg dyeing.

It’s easy to get a beautiful clutch of Easter Eggs with natural colors. Probably the simplest way is to purchase eggs from an Araucana chicken, one of the few breeds that lays naturally blue-green eggs. LaBonne’s Market in Salisbury CT often has these eggs in stock. Another easy option is to buy quail eggs which are mottled beige and brown.

I have a couple of friends who use classic old-world methods to color their Easter eggs. Renee’s family is from Syria, and in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, she colors her eggs using red onion skins and a single beet. The result is a gorgeous deep mahogany red. To enhance the effect, she rubs a little olive oil on the egg. My friend, Vladimira from Slovenia, uses a similar technique but first presses a leaf of parsley onto the egg then ties it in a piece of pantyhose before placing into the dye. The resulting egg reminds me of a print on sun-sensitive photographic paper – just the hint of natural shape.

Along with onion skins and beets, there are many common food items that can be used to make natural dyes. Be creative! It only takes a little bit of vegetables, herbs or spices to come up with a gorgeous hue - or use a strong cup of your favorite color tea! Adding a bit of white vinegar to the mix lowers the pH and helps set the colors. For the richest colors, let your eggs sit in the dye for several hours, turning frequently to evenly expose all sides.

Here are some of the easiest combinations, along with a recipe for the red onion skin dye. After extracting the color into the boiling water, strain the ingredients then mix the vinegar into the colored water.

Mix together any of the following combinations:

2 tbsp. paprika - 1 cup boiling water - 2 tsp. white vinegar (reddish-orange)
2 tbsp. powdered turmeric - 1 cup boiling water - 2 tsp. white vinegar (golden yellow)
2 tbsp. crushed dill seed - 1 cup boiling water - 2 tsp. white vinegar (golden-brown)
2 tbsp. annatto - 1 cup boiling water - 2 tsp. white vinegar (orange yellow)
1 large beet cut into chunks - 4 cups boiling water – 2 tsp. white vinegar (red or yellow)
¼ head red cabbage (chopped) – 4 cups boiling water – 2 tbsp. white vinegar (blue)
1 cup frozen blueberries – 1 cup boiling water – 1 tsp. white vinegar (blue)
Steep 4 bags of tea in 1 cup boiling water (you can use herbal teas such as chamomile or hibiscus, or green or black tea) – 1 tsp. white vinegar
1 cup strong black coffee (preferably instant espresso) – 1 tablespoon vinegar (brown)
1 cup Concord grape juice 1 tbsp. white vinegar (lavender)

Red Onion Skin Easter Eggs

3 cups packed red onion skins
1 red beet, cut into chunks
3 tbsp. white vinegar
White eggs, hard-boiled
Olive oil, optional

Nylon stockings (knee-high size works well)
Fresh herb leaves – e.g., parsley or cilantro
Kitchen string

Boil the onion skins and beet in 2 quarts of water for about 30 minutes to extract the color. Strain the water and discard the skins and beet. Add the white vinegar and stir to mix well. Dye the eggs in the colored water until you reach the desired intensity, turning often to ensure even coloring.

To give a beautiful varnished-appearance to your eggs, after they are completely dry rub the eggs with a little olive oil, to remove any extra by lightly patting with a soft cotton towel.

To make an herb-leaf-design on the egg: before dyeing, position an herb leaf onto the white egg, then carefully place the egg into a cut piece of nylon stocking to hold the herb in place. Tie both ends with a kitchen string to secure. Place in the dye bath until the desired shade is reached. Remove the egg from the dye bath, but let completely dry before removing the stocking and herb leaf.

You may also dye eggs using yellow or brown onion skins, adding a yellow beet to enhance the golden color.