Every spring, as Easter approaches, I think of the all the egg hunts of my youth and then making the same experience happen for my son. On Easter morning, if the weather was nice, the eggs were hidden under bushes and in big clumps of grass—or weeds, as the case may be—that seemed to have sprung up overnight with the warmth of the sun and a spring rain.
However, as Midwestern weather is fickle, the egg hunts often took place in the house, with hidden treasures under chairs and behind curtains. The thrill of the hunt was not daunted. Chocolate eggs, plastic eggs filled with small gifts, and tiny plastic straw nests filled with jellybeans were part of the game, along with hard-boiled eggs, generally dipped in artificial dyes from the dime store.
This year, I’m going with natural dyes. The pantry and root cellar are stocked with rich sources of color just waiting to be coaxed into a dye bath. The resulting eggs might not be as bright and shiny as you find by artificial means, but the natural dyes are seductive in their earthiness and charm.
And, these eggs are assuredly safe to eat. The patterns presented here were created by means of a resist using herb leaves, rubber bands and wax.
- Red cabbage: blue
- Onion skins: orange or deep rust
- Beets: pink
- Coffee: beige
- Turmeric: yellow
- Paprika: muddy rose
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar per dye bath to help set the color
- soy wax
- various sized craft brushes
- small tin for melting wax
- rubber bands (various widths)
- fresh herbs
Step 1: Cook the Eggs
Place the eggs in a single layer in a large pot. Cover with cool water by 1 inch, and bring to a rolling boil.
Turn off the heat and leave covered for 12 minutes.
Drain the water and fill the pot with cold water to cool the eggs as quickly as possible. When cool, refrigerate until ready to dye.
Step 2: Make the Dye Baths
Cabbage, Onion Skins and Beets
Thinly slice red cabbage, crush onion skins and grate beets.
Place 1 cup of your chosen ingredient with 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Do this with each ingredient separately to make three separate natural dyes.
Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pot.
Strain into a glass, pressing on the material to extract as much dye as possible. Add 1 teaspoon white vinegar to each of your natural dyes. Cover and refrigerate.
Make a very strong cup of coffee. Cool. Add 1 teaspoon white vinegar. Cover and refrigerate.
Turmeric and Paprika
Mix 1 tablespoon ground turmeric or paprika with 1 cup boiling water. Stir to saturate the powder. Let steep for 30 minutes and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Add 1 teaspoon white vinegar to each dye bath. Cover and refrigerate.
Step 3: Gather Resists
These materials can be used to add texture and patterns to your dyed eggs.
Soy wax is available at the craft store. I used this instead of beeswax because it melts at a lower temperature and is easier to remove from the egg.
Melt in a small tin. I used a disposable aluminum mini pie tin, but a washed-out tuna can would be perfect. Set the tin in a skillet of simmering water, creating a double boiler to melt the wax into liquid form. Stay close, as you don’t want to overheat it.
I used small craft brushes to make lines, circles and dots on both white eggs and eggs that have already been dyed. Applying wax will preserve the color you cover.
You can repeat the waxing and coloring to produce several colors on an egg, going from light to dark, as I did with the checkered egg, using first white natural egg, then turmeric, then cabbage, then onion skin. (The turmeric yellow got a bit lost in the process.)
When the wax is cool lower the egg into the dye bath. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. The longer the soak, the darker the color.
When the egg has achieved the color you desire, chip off as much wax as you can with a fingernail, then rinse under hot tap water, rubbing with your hands to remove the remaining wax.
Stretch the rubber bands around the egg in various positions. Lower into the dye bath and let soak, covered and refrigerated, as long as you like to achieve the color you desire. Pat dry on paper towels.
Remove the bands to reveal the pattern.
Cut fresh sprigs of herb leaves and lay them on an 8-inch square of tulle. (I used parsley, thyme and rosemary.) Lay the egg on top and gather up the sides so the herbs are in close contact with the egg. Twist until tight, and tie with a string.
Lower into the dye bath and let sit in the refrigerator for several hours to get a rich color. Remove the netting and herbs, pat dry on paper towels and admire.
Step 4: Eat Your Eggs
Because I wanted to be able to eat the resulting eggs, I refrigerated them at all stages and was careful not to keep them out for more than a few minutes while I orchestrated the patterns.
If you are not patterning your eggs, you can cook them directly in the dye bath.
Display in a basket or wooden bowl on the breakfast table and enjoy with your meal, or make some wonderful egg salad or deviled eggs for later.
Try these egg recipes from HobbyFarms.com:
- Crab-Stuffed Deviled Eggs
- Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
- Smokey Eggs Salad with Toasted Pecans
- Chicken Empanadas with Guasacaca Sauce
- Stacked Tomato Niçoise