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Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Natural Easter Egg Dyes

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Easter is a big holiday at the ranch. Most years, after my kids look for the eggs that the Easter Bunny has hidden in our front yard, we put on Easter outfits and head down to the Casa—the ranch’s historic headquarters—for a big gathering. For decades we’ve invited friends from neighboring ranches and from Santa Barbara and Lompoc to join us for a potluck lunch under the Casa’s old arbour. The day feels like a celebration of spring: the purple wisteria on the arbor is flowering and fragrant; the grass in the yard is green; and the first flowers of the spring are blooming. Our guests bring a rainbow’s worth of eggs for us all to hide for a second egg hunt as well as platters and bowls full of roast ham, lamb, vegetables, and big salads—plus lots and lots of desserts.

Last year, of course, we had a much smaller celebration with just our immediate family, and this year we’ll do something small with my parents. But one tradition that I can continue, no matter how small our celebration, is dyeing eggs with my kids using natural dyes made from vegetables grown on the ranch. 

 

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There are a lot of reasons that I love making my own egg dyes. Part of the appeal is practical: it’s really cheap and convenient to use foods that you already have sitting around your kitchen to dye your eggs. The process is also kind of a science experiment for the kids, since we’re never entirely sure what color we’ll end up with (especially if we use brown and colored eggs). But the other reason I really like making my own dyes is that some of the color from the dye is going to seep through onto the egg white. If I’m going to feed the eggs to my family after Easter, I always prefer to have that color come from a real food, if I can find the time to make it happen.

Many different kinds of food will produce nice dyes that you can use for your eggs. Onion skins, cabbage, and turmeric are all popular, but anything with a strong color that stains (basically any food that you don’t want to get onto your nice linen tablecloth) will do. Some options include:

  • red—red onion skins (long soak)

  • reddish orange—paprika

  • pink—chopped beets (with white eggs)

  • maroon—chopped beets (with brown eggs)

  • burgundy—red wine

  • gold—yellow onion skins

  • yellow—turmeric

  • green—turmeric + cabbage (soak in yellow first, then in the blue after it dries)

  • light blue—red cabbage (light soak)

  • indigo—red cabbage (long soak)

  • lavender—blueberries or Red Zinger tea

  • purple—red wine (long soak)

  • light brown—leftover coffee

  • dark brown—coffee (with brown eggs)

  • off-white—black tea

 

Once you’ve picked your materials, you’re ready to make the dyes:

  • Put each ingredient into its own pot with about a quart of water and 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar (to help the color adhere to the eggs) and bring the water to a boil. Let the pot bubble for 30 minutes or longer. (The longer the mixtures cook, the stronger the dyes will be.)

  • Turn the heat off and let the liquid cool completely, then strain out the solids (the vegetables, tea bags, etc), and pour the liquid into wide-mouth quart jars or bowls. (Just remember that the color may stain anything it sits in.)

  • Gently add the eggs to the jars and let them sit until the eggs have the desired color; 30 minutes will generally produce some nice pastel colors; a few hours will give you a much richer palette. 

  • When the eggs are done, carefully pull them out with a spoon and lay them on paper towels to dry. The finished eggs can go back into their cartons and stay in the refrigerator for up to a week.

  • Once you’re done with your first batch of eggs, you can seal the jars of dye and leave them in the refrigerator, ready for another batch (or two) later in the week.

 

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I’ve made eggs this way for many years, but this past week, I made a test batch using both white and brown eggs, just for fun, since I don’t usually have white eggs and I wanted to see how the colors differed. When I checked on them after 30 minutes, the eggs had nice pastel hues, but I opted to put them back and leave them in the dye, refrigerated, overnight. The results were gorgeous. The white eggs dyed with cabbage had a deep indigo-like blue, those in the onion peel mixture turned a golden color that reminded me of a sunset, and the beets were a beautiful pink. The brown eggs also took the colors well but turned out slightly darker; the ones I dyed with the beets were a particularly nice maroon. I also used cold coffee on the brown eggs, which produced a rich, mahogany-like result. Each of the eggs also turned out slightly different, and they had interesting spots where they had touched each other in the jars. The result was a really beautiful, natural-looking assortment that I just love. 

I’ll do a few more batches of eggs with the kids throughout this coming week; they really like to play with the colors and experiment with the time and color combinations. Because these dyes take longer to set than store-bought dyes, we usually put the eggs into the color and then head out to do something else—if we’re going for light colors, I might just send them to brush their teeth or read a book, but if we want dark colors, we’ll head outside to play or work. At the end of the week, we’ll have a wide range of colors and plenty of eggs to keep the Easter bunny busy for a long, long time.

 

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Enjoy!

Elizabeth

Photos by Elizabeth Poett

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