When it comes to dyeing Easter eggs, look no farther than your kitchen cupboard.
There are plenty of commercial, artificial dyes to create a variety of effects, but there is something very satisfying about using spices, fruits and vegetables that often yield surprising colors, said Mariah Butler, an environmental educator who will lead a natural egg-dyeing workshop Saturday, April 19, at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville.
“I live naturally as much as possible, and I’m always looking for ways in my life that I can switch to natural products,” Butler said. “If the (natural) dye soaks into the egg, I still feel comfortable eating it. I don’t feel that way about artificial dyes.”
Butler began experimenting with natural dyes three years ago when she got a flock of chickens that lay green, blue and brown eggs. The eggs are beautiful without dyeing, but are even prettier when put into dye baths made with such things as turmeric, cumin, chili powder, paprika, blueberries, strawberries, beets, red cabbage and onion skins.
The eggs from Butler’s chickens turn muted colors, while white eggs become more vibrant and may be more fun for children to dye.
Eggs can be left in the dye for a few minutes or as long as overnight to get a deep, intense color. Raw eggs can be hard-boiled with the veggies or spices to create a mottled effect. Or the dye can be strained for a more uniform color.
The eggs Butler dyed overnight in the juice of crushed blueberries smelled like the fruit and had a slight berry taste.
Eggs dyed for a long time in onion skins may have a slight onion taste.
The most surprising vegetable, Butler said, is red cabbage, which yields a robin-egg blue color.
The intensity of the dyes depends upon the amount of spices, herbs, fruits or vegetables used, she said.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment,” she said. “Just be sure everything is edible.”
Butler uses white vinegar to set the colors, but some recipes she found call for alum or cream of tartar. She did not find much difference in the colors when she experimented with different mordants.
White crayons can be used to write names or draw pictures on eggs prior to dyeing them. For a striped effect, try wrapping eggs with rubber bands.
To get a leaf imprint, place a leaf on an egg, then wrap it in an old, clean nylon stocking, securing it with a twist tie. Place the egg in the dye until it is the desired color. When the wrap is removed, the leaf imprint will remain along with a sunburst effect created by the twist tie.
If fresh fruit is not available or is too expensive, Butler uses frozen fruit.
When children dye eggs, they usually want fast results. Save some eggs to sit in the dye for several hours or overnight to achieve darker colors.
Not wanting to waste anything, Butler uses leftover dye for watercolor paints. The strained vegetables go into a compost pile.
After dyed eggs are dry, they can be rubbed with vegetable oil to create a sheen.
The following fruits, vegetables and spices make good dyes:
Yellow onion skins — Yellow to burnt orange.
Red onion skins — Pale purple to red.
Turmeric or cumin — Bright yellow.
Red cabbage — Blue.
Spinach — Green.
Purple grape juice — Lavender.
Coffee — Tan to brown.
Chili powder — Orange.
Paprika — Deep orange.
Blueberries — Blue.
Raspberries or blackberries — Pink to purple.
Natural Egg Dye
4 cups chopped, shredded or mashed fruits or vegetables or 4 tablespoons spices
4 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Combine ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain to remove bits of fruit, vegetables or spices.
Place eggs in dyes until desired color. It may take overnight for some dyes. Dyes can be mixed to create new colors.
Let eggs dry.
If desired, wipe dry eggs with vegetable oil to create a sheen.
Use coffee, tea or grape juice as is. There is no need to boil or add vinegar.
Hard Boiled Eggs
Eggs, room temperature
Water to cover
Place eggs in a single layer in a large saucepan. Add cool water to cover by 1 inch.
Bring water to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and cover.
Let large eggs sit in hot water for 12 minutes, medium eggs for 9 minutes and extra-large eggs for 15 minutes. One egg can be tested to see if it is done. If it’s not done, keep remaining eggs in hot water longer.
Transfer eggs to a colander and place under cool, running water to stop the cooking. Eggs can be peeled and served immediately.
A green ring around the yolk occurs when eggs have been cooked too long or at too high a temperature. It is a reaction between sulfur in the egg white and iron in the yolk and is safe to eat.
It is best to hard-boil eggs that are at least seven days old. Fresh eggs are difficult to peel.
Never pierce shells before cooking. If the piercer or needle is not sterile, it can introduce bacteria into the egg. Piercing also creates hairline cracks in the shell through which bacteria can enter after cooking.
Never microwave eggs in shells. Steam builds up too quickly and the eggs are likely to explode.
Hard-boiled unpeeled eggs can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Peeled eggs should be eaten the same day.
Recipe from www.incredibleegg.org.
Image information: Merrit Nye (left) and Ava Gawrych dipped their eggs into dyes made of turmeric and chili powder. In the foreground were dyes made of blueberries, red cabbage and beets Photo by Sam Arendt