We’ve been dying Easter eggs naturally for three or four years straight now. I have to admit that there are times when I miss the old PAAS tradition from my own childhood. This year I was tempted, for just a moment, by the rows of cheap egg dye packages at the local Wal-Mart. If there had been a high school band in the building, they would have struck up a discombobulated rendition of “Memories” to help me along, I am sure, as floods of nostalgia did their best to convince me that my kids had to be missing out on something. Almost as if in a trance, I picked up the package. Shouldn’t I just throw it in the cart and save myself the work? I glanced at the label, and that’s what saved me. Made in China. Man, I HATE that! Take your Siren’s songs of sentimentality and shove it, you crafty advertisers! It’s NOT just like when I was a kid! Since when was PAAS made in China? Even the official description for the Paas website says PAAS Easter egg dye has been a traditional staple of traditional American Easter Egg decorating supplies for 125 years. It all just makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. 126 years ago, I’ll bet there was a different tradition. 126 years ago folks in America were probably dyeing their eggs the way my family did this year… not supporting some poorly paid slave laborer in China. Reading the label further, all the chemical names in the ingredient list clinched the deal. I decided to stick with natural dyes for another year. As I wheeled my cart back and away from temptation, my only regret was for the Americans too cheap to care and the Chinese too desperate to turn away a business deal. Beyond the thousands of my countrymen eating the chemical-tinged eggs, what poor river or lake somewhere in China was running with fluorescent pink effluent? What Chinese peasant child was having to live with the environmental load left from making all these luring pastel boxes of gobbelty-gook? Silly industrialists, egg coloring is for kids!
Since year one, my favorite natural-egg colorant has been yellow onion skin. It’s the simplest, most dependable color to create, always turning out a rich, beautiful cinnamon-brown color. Some people save their onion skins. I, of course, am not ever as prepared. I simply peel 3 or 4 onions down to their whites, stick them in containers to be used for tomorrow’s potato salad, deviled eggs or whatnot… and go on. But now, thanks to PAAS, I found myself trying to ignore visions of fluorescent pastel eggs as they danced in my head. I resolved to try to expand my natural egg dying color palette this year. Maybe I should try waxing, like in the story, Rechenka’s Eggs?
Problem was, by the time we got around to actually making Easter eggs, it was not only bedtime, it was THE bedtime… Twas the night before Easter and all through the house, not a creature’d gone shopping. Man, I’m a louse! Determined to find a way using what I already had on hand at home, I headed to the Internet for help. In past years, I’d had mixed luck using fresh beets to get pink, but since I’d forgotten to buy them… hibiscus blossoms and chili powder stepped in as substitutes. Also missing was the spinach, but since I’d never had any luck with getting green eggs out of spinach, so that was no loss. I decided to try tumeric again, even though it had failed for me in past years, to see if I could get yellow…. and varied the onion skins by adding dill seed to the same pot. In a final burst of inspiration, I changed my google searching from dying eggs to dying fiber. Oh, voila! That was where I found the recipe for natural green egg dye, just sitting there, innocently waiting for me under the guise of greening sheep wool.
Now, I know, most of you don’t have hibiscus blossoms sitting around in YOUR cupboards… but I do… along with the other stuff I needed to make the green egg dye. I’m an aspiring herbalist, after all… so let this be a lesson on just another reason why being a herbalist is so dang COOL. You should have heard me cackling away as I rejoiced that my stores of nettle and barberry root did indeed serve a practical purpose a time of great need… though not for any need I’d originally supposed. Bubble, bubble… no toil or trouble… saving Easter on the double!
The easiest way to dye the eggs is just to stick everything in a pot of cold water: eggs, vinegar, dying agents and all. Make sure your pot is NOT aluminum and that your eggs are NOT brown. It’s not a rocket science… just throw in as much of what you think will dye the amount of eggs you have, and see what you get. I use anywhere from 2 Tbsp to 1 cup. I bring it all to a boil and let them simmer away for at least 30 minutes. In the past, I would then drain the eggs and cool them, but I found that the color would often wipe away when I dried off the eggs. From what gathered reading online this year, this could be attributed to not giving the eggs enough time to soak up the color (hence my former bad luck with turmeric) and/or maybe not enough vinegar. So, remembering the home-science experiment we did as kids (where you stick the turkey bone in a jar of vinegar and watched it turn soft and dissolve into nothing) I realized that was probably what the vinegar did to the eggshell. Without really measuring, I unscientifically dumped at least 1/4 cup of vinegar into each of my 4 pots… and for the first time I also let all of the eggs sit overnight in the colorants. If THAT didn’t make the dye stick, I figured nothing would.
- CINNAMON BROWN: I don’t think the onion skins needed any help from the dill seed or the vinegar or the overnight soak. In fact, I liked the color less this year than any other year. It was duller and just not as pretty. Why did I mess with perfection? So next year, I will just do the 1 cup water, 2 Tbsp vinegar and a bunch of onion skins, cooling them after 30 minutes and then sticking them in the fridge. Maybe I’ll try the dill seed separately and see if I get a different color.
- GRAY: Boo hoo… this was supposed to have been a lovely pink shade. I think the hibiscus blossoms were working initially, but then I showed a lack of faith and added the chili powder… and then some blueberries at the last minute, hoping maybe to get purple out of the disaster. From this year’s experience I can now say that I wouldn’t recommend chili powder for making pink or red because it’s just too oily in nature. It interfered with everything that was going right with the hibiscus flowers. But no worries… I got this year’s gray out of it. (Natural egg dyers never have to worry about how to make gray. In my experience, every year, there is a botched batch that goes gray. Maybe it’s to remind us of the stone that was rolled away from the tomb… so that we might remember that thanks to Christ, death doesn’t botch up anything at all.)
- YELLOW: Yes!! I had success for the first time with turmeric! Hooray! In exact opposite to the cinnamon browns, I really think the vinegar and soaking overnight made the difference there. Compared to the other, more earth-toned colors, though, it seemed a bit out of place; almost neon. So much for the glory of PAAS. The earth tones are just so much prettier to me.
- GREEN: My pride, my joy, and my gloating point for this year. I used dried nettle leaves and dried barberry root, along with the extra-vinegary water, the 30 minute boil, and the overnight soak. Just before shutting off the stove, I also added some blueberries, which means I probably would have ended up with a lighter shade of green than the olive army green that I got. I only made 6, thinking they wouldn’t turn out. Oh, wait until next year! I could see already that one mistake people make in using fresh spinach is the water content. The green color from my herbs was already dehydrated and ready to go.
Overall, a pretty pleasing year for this natural egg dyer. My favorite part is the end, when I can take the eggs out of the dye, dry them off, and oil them. For me this symbolism is reminiscent of baptism and confirmation. As I take care of each egg, one by one, I am reminded of how God loves and cares for each of us, individually. When I set them in the cartons, I am reminded that there is a place waiting for you and for me. He is seeking us out, just as my children did later, in the Easter egg hunt, one by one, in the highways, in the hedges… ever helping us and ever hoping that we will find our way back home to Him. I know that our Redeemer lives.
Happy Resurrection Day, Everyone!