When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Easter eggs, naturally
When I was a child, colouring Easter eggs with my family was always one of the highlights of the holiday weekend. My mom and dad, my two brothers and I would sit around the covered dining room table, surrounded by cups full of dye, crayons and markers, tiny bottles of food colouring and Q-tips, stickers and egg cups, and we would all work our creative magic, transforming ordinary white eggs into colourful little pieces of art. It was always a great hour or two of family fun, and afterwards, I know I really enjoyed eating our special eggs for breakfast on Easter morning.
The egg colouring tradition is one I still love, now that I have my own two boys, and over the years we've experimented with many dyeing methods, all of which have involved some kind of artificial food colouring. Curious this year as to whether I could avoid the semi-permanent smurf-blue fingers and the chemicals that come with such dyes, I started investigating whether there was a good way to colour Easter eggs naturally. Happily, I discovered the internet is full of suggestions for ways to make your own dyes using readily available fruits, vegetables, and spices.
Feeling excited and intrigued by my findings, I started experimenting like a mad kitchen scientist with some of the ingredients suggested in the chart below (courtesy of About.com,Chemistry):
Natural Easter Egg Dyes
Small Quantity of Purple Grape Juice
Violet Blossoms plus 2 tsp Lemon Juice
Red Zinger Tea
Small Quantity of Red Onions Skins (boiled)
Red Cabbage Leaves (boiled)
Purple Grape Juice
Spinach Leaves (boiled)
Yellow Delicious Apple Peels (boiled)
Orange or Lemon Peels (boiled)
Carrot Tops (boiled)
Celery Seed (boiled)
Ground Cumin (boiled)
Ground Turmeric (boiled)
Black Walnut Shells (boiled)
Yellow Onion Skins (boiled)
Cranberries or Juice
Red Grape Juice
Juice from Pickled Beets
Lots of Red Onions Skins (boiled)
Canned Cherries with Juice
You would laugh if I told you how many pots of boiling vegetables I've had going on the stove over the past 48 hours, trying to determine which food ingredients would result in the nicest egg colours, but it was actually a lot of fun! (I guess the boys and I are similar in that when we're curious about something, we throw ourselves whole-heartedly into a project!) The boys also thought this was a great chemistry lesson, and frequently came to check on the progress of the experimental eggs as they steeped away in their little mugs in the fridge.
If you are interested in colouring eggs the natural way, you, too, can experiment with the foods in the chart and see what you end up with. In the interest of saving you some time, though, I thought I'd share the ingredients and methods I tried that worked best for me.
To dye your own eggs naturally, you will need:
hard-boiled white eggs (cooled)
orange peel and cumin
several saucepans, bowls and/or mugs, spoons
The first stage of this egg-colouring process involves preparing the dyes. Some ingredients require boiling to produce their colours; others can simply be used cold.
To make violet dye: Simply pour red wine into a bowl or mug. Add 2-3 tsp of vinegar.
To make blue dye: Add a handful or two of thawed and crushed frozen blueberries to a bowl or mug of water. Add 2-3 tsp of vinegar.
To make yellow dye: Add a few cups of water and a few handfuls of orange peel to a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or until it reaches a desired colour. Strain liquid into a bowl or mug; add 2-3 tsp of vinegar. (To make the colour deeper, I also stirred a few shakes of cumin into my yellow dye while it was still hot.)
To make pink dye: Add a few cups of water and a few handfuls of chopped beets to a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or until it reaches a desired colour. Strain liquid into a bowl or mug; add 2-3 tsp of vinegar.
To make orange dye: Add a few spoonfuls of chili powder to a bowl or mug of boiling water and stir. Add 2-3 tsp of vinegar.
*Note: Despite several attempts with different vegetables, I was unable to get a shade of green dye that was anywhere close to pleasant. If you try and have success, please let me know your secret!
Once your dyes are prepared and cool, add previously hard-boiled eggs to bowls and/or mugs and let them stand. I found I achieved the best results when I let the eggs soak in the dyes for several hours, and sometimes, even overnight. *Be sure to do this step in the refrigerator if you plan to eat the eggs afterwards.
If you wish to add some more creative elements to your eggs, try drawing designs on them with a white crayon, or wrapping rubber bands around them in an interesting pattern, or adding little circle or star stickers to them before submerging them in the dye. Remove the elastic bands and stickers once your eggs are coloured and your artwork will stand out beautifully.
Colouring eggs the natural way takes more time and effort than using artificial dyes, but the benefits are many. It's a fascinating educational experience and fun project for the whole family, it's healthier for you and for the environment, and the end result is beautiful eggs that reflect the lovely colours found in nature. Happy Easter!