Natural color

Vegetables, berries and fruits add color to Easter eggs

Vegetables, berries and fruits add color to Easter eggs

March 14, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Easter egg dyes can be found in onion skins, carrot tops, apple peels - the parts you'd normally throw away.

And they're not hard to make.

First, you'll want to decide whether you want to use hard-cooked eggs or emptied eggs - an egg from which the contents are removed by a kitchen baster after the shell is pierced at the bottom with a sharp skewer or needle.

"If you're going to work with little children, a hard-cooked egg is sturdier," said Elisa Maloberti, director of egg product marketing for the American Egg Board. "If you're creating a masterpiece you want to display for awhile, you want an emptied egg."

Next, you'll want to determine what ingredients you want to use.

"Vegetables work very well," said Darcé Easton, who leads natural-egg-dyeing demonstrations at the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum.

Fruits can pose a challenge because they contain pectin, which can make the shells slippery, Easton said.


Once you've picked your ingredients, the process is for creating the dye is simple.

Boil the ingredients in about one quart of water, with about two tablespoons of vinegar for each quart. Maloberti said you'll want to chop up vegetables like beets and radishes before putting them in with the water and vinegar.

Once the dye has boiled for about a half hour, then you add the eggs, Easton said.

The time factor is where commercial dyes draw a major advantage over natural dyes. Commercial dyes only require that you dissolve a color tablet in either vinegar, lemon juice or water.

Commercial dyes have been around for a while. The PAAS Dye Company, which is now owned by a Florida-based business that specializes in dessert-decorating products, started making commercial dyes in the late 1800s.

But commercial dyes didn't gain mass popularity until after World War II, said Easton, who is president of the Rural Heritage Museum's board.

Some people like natural egg dyeing because of its close ties to local history.

Culinary historian Sally Waltz said in the late 1700s, early settlers to Washington County would wrap eggs in onion skins to create a marbled effect on the shell. The skins were kept together with a string tied around the egg.

"That's too hard," Waltz said. "I just wrap (eggs in onion skins) in foil."

Easton said she remembered her grandmother keeping an egg-filled pot of boiled onion skins on the back of the stove around Easter time.

Easton led a similar demonstration at the Rural Heritage Museum on Wednesday, only she had pre-boiled the eggs and kept the onion-skin dye in a crock pot.

One of the attendees, Mary Muller, of Wolfsville, Md., south of Smithsburg, said she had done natural-dye egg decorating at Easter two years ago.

There are seven children in the Muller family; five attended the dye demo on Wednesday. Her family found success with cabbage, which Muller said turns eggs a pretty blue color.

"It's a little more work, but not that much more," Muller said. "But it's a lot of fun, and you get your kids involved."

How to make natural dyes

To make about a quart of natural dye, put two tablespoons of vinegar into a quart of water, said Darc Easton, president of the board of directors at the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum. You'll boil the ingredients for about 30 minutes and allow the eggs to soak in the dye for at least 15 minutes. The longer they soak, the deeper the color.

Here's a basic color and ingredient guide, courtesy of the American Egg Board:

· Pinkish red - fresh beets, cranberries, radishes or frozen raspberries

· Orange - yellow onion skins

· Delicate yellow - orange or lemon peels, carrot tops, celery seed or ground cumin

· Yellow - ground turmeric

· Pale green - spinach leaves

· Green-gold - yellow delicious apple peels

· Blue - canned blueberries or red cabbage leaves

· Beige to brown - strong brewed coffee

· Brown-gold - dill seeds

· Brown-orange - chili powder

· Gray - beet juice or purple or red-colored grape juice

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