Naturally-Dyed Easter Eggs
Article & Photography by Elizabeth Miller
Though I grew up in a multi-cultural family, my upbringing was decidedly all American, all the time. My siblings and I went trick or treating on Halloween, set off untold amounts of fireworks on the 4thof July, stayed up late on Christmas Eve to try and catch a glimpse of Santa Claus, and dyed Easter eggs using the same cardboard kit that every other kid in America used. You know the one I am talking about. The tiny little pellets of dye that looked like children’s Tylenol.
The bendy wire egg holders that sagged under the weight of a single egg. The paper rings that were meant to prop up
each egg as it dried, but only ever seemed to collapse each time they were met with the challenge.
Having my own kid has had a strange effect on my own childhood memories. Most people I know tend to want to repeat their own childhood experiences with their children, recreating traditions long practiced, but I tend to sway in the opposite direction. It’s not that my own memories of growing up are not worthy of passing along to my child. It’s just that my childhood is simply not my son’s childhood. We are two different people, and we deserve two different lives. Because of this, each time a holiday rolls around, I find myself looking for ways to create new, unfamiliar memories with my son, and new traditions that will serve as his own to remember.
This year, as with every Easter in the past, we will be forgoing the supermarket packet of Easter egg dye. As per our own tradition, we decorate our eggs, which we regard as food, with otherfood. All of our egg-dying tools are readily available at the market, but they can all be located in the produce section rather than the seasonal holiday aisle. Shredded beets add a magical hue to the water used for boiling eggs, and the more muddled the water with beets, the deeper the color of the egg. Soaking pre-boiled eggs overnight in a bowl of water steeped with shredded carrots will result in beautiful golden eggs. My hands down favorite method of dying eggs naturally involves just a tiny bit more effort, though it is undeniably worth it once you see the results.
Start with a huge pile of onion skins. Any color will do, but I like having a wide variety of colors (this time around I used red onions, yellow onions, and shallots). Throw the onion skins in a big bowl of water, and add a decent glug of white vinegar (this will help the color set on the egg’s shell). Gently stir everything around and make sure all of the onion skins are wet, then let them sit for a few minutes to soften up a bit. While the onion skins are softening, cut out as many large squares of cheesecloth as you have eggs you want to dye, then cut the same number of four or five inch-long lengths of butcher’s twine.
When the onion skins are soft, wrap each egg in two or three layers of onion skins. Wrap each onion skin-covered egg in cheesecloth, then draw up the corners of the cloth and tie it securely closed with a piece of butcher’s twine. When you have wrapped all of the eggs and secured them in cheesecloth, place the eggs in a pan, cover with water, and bring the water just to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and allow eggs to sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Then carefully remove each egg from the hot water and place in a bowl of ice water to cool.
When you unwrap each egg from its cheesecloth and onion skin coat, you will be greeted with a unique collection of swirly, colorful patterns on each egg. You will also have achieved perfectly cooked hard boiled eggs which, should you dare to crack open, are almost as enjoyable to eat as they are to color.
Elizabeth Miller is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Sustainable Industries Journal, the Denver Quarterly, J&L Illustrated, and Mcsweeney’s. A 15-year resident of Portland, she feels she has earned her stripes as a true Portlander by working as an advocate for skateboarding (Skaters for Portland Skateparks), a freelance project manager for a community outreach and recycled building materials nonprofit (The ReBuilding Center), and marketing and events specialist at Portland’s most storied local business (Powell’s Books). Elizabeth currently runs Savory Salty Sweet, a food and kitchen appreciation website, and she is a regular contributor to indiefixx.com, where she writes a food and cooking column called Melting Pot .
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