Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easter Eggs Made with Natural Dyes and Herbs

For children, Easter is a fun event with candy and egg hunting. However my friends Christian and Cindy would make this event fun for all ages by showing us how to make beautiful and tasty Easter eggs using natural dyes and herbs. These are by far the most creative and prettiest eggs I have ever seen! Christian relocated to the United States to be with Cindy and brought this Swiss tradition with him. She tells me they have been following this tradition with family and friends for the last 15 years. Christian mentions that "the onion peel dye is just the classic, traditional (method). My mother and grandmother did it that way. We would always strive for the most intense color for a strong contrast, i.e., start collecting the onion peel a month before Easter. Cindy goes more for a tasteful, lighter color, and we found that a little peel goes a long way." They explain that dry onion skins (just the outside husks) work the best.

With Easter coming up I am excited that Christian and Cindy agreed to be my guest writers for this post. When I first looked at their write up I thought that this looked familiar. I realized it is written in a scientific style since both are PhD scientists! Both are busy with careers and raising a young son on an 84-acre farm. Cindy (who is a brain scientist/professor--I am not kidding!) later admits that she has been globe trotting to give scientific talks (with the latest trips to Morocco and England to name a few), finishing up papers for her Harvard job, working on two books (of course the subject is brains!), trimming blueberries, and performing various tasks on the farm. While chatting with her she said she has to go outside to run her tractor while the weather is still warm and should be back to talk later! Yes, that's Cindy, always multi-tasking!

Here is a link to their Mercer Road Farm in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Their farm is open to the public during blueberry picking season which starts around mid July. I hear they have 2000 bushes full of delicious berries! Thank you Cindy and Christian for this post and photos! Happy Easter and start saving your onion peels!


Addendum: 9/12/15, Cindy has started her own blog, Saving Dragonflies. It's about eating sustainable organic local food. Please check it out!

Easter Eggs Made with Natural Dyes and Herbs


Ingredients and prep: 

  • Collect organic onion skins. A little goes a long way. For light eggs you will need the skins from just 2 onions for use in conjunction with a medium saucepan of water. You should experiment and add water or more onion skins to get a desirable color. We usually use one pan for a light batch and one for a dark batch (3 or more onions worth of skins). 
  • Collect organic and wild herbs that are edible. Dandelion leaves are perfect. Other good choices are organic carrots with the feathery green tops, dill, cilantro, wild partridge berry from the forest and spring violets with flowers. Wild violets flowers leave beautiful blue dye on the egg. Blueberry leaves make a blue mark on the eggs also. Only choose plants that you absolutely know are non-toxic. Many common plants are very poisonous – if you are not an expert stick to herbs from the grocery store. Taxus (yew) and wolfs bane are a few that are EXTREMELY TOXIC. The eggshell is permeable to toxins. 
  • White organic eggs 
  • Food grade string 
  • Scissors 
  • Clean sheer hosiery or some kind of fine netting that can be boiled 
  • Pins, toothpicks or skewers to arrange the herbs under the hose or stocking 
  • A bowl of clean water to use to wet the herbs/leaves 
  • A pan to boil the eggs

Instructions:

Wash the herbs, rinse the onion skins, wash the eggs with a bit of dish soap. Bacteria from eggs come most often from the shell. You will be touching the raw eggs so they should be clean first.


Boil the onion skins in water. Fill the pan about 2/3 full of water, put in the onion skins and boil for 15 minutes. You can then either take the onion skins out or leave them in for the dye to get darker as the session goes on. We usually make a lighter water bath and a darker one.

We also get organic dyes from Switzerland. One is cochineal – this turns the eggs a bright pink color. To use cochineal (cochenille in French)– add about one tablespoon in 2 quarts of water. Simmer it for 15 minutes before dying the eggs. Another is logwood (Haematoxylon campechianum), which yields blue – light when dying already cooked eggs in cold solution, but almost black if you boil the eggs in the dye.

While you are boiling your dye pot, start to prep the eggs. Place an herb or leaf onto the egg. Sometimes it helps to dip the leaf into water first. As it sticks to the egg, place the hosiery around and tie it with a string so that the leaf is held tightly to the egg. Cut off extra hosiery. This is a skill and it might be difficult at first. It helps to start out with an easy leaf such as dandelion.

If using fine leaves you might use a pointed implement to arrange the leaves under the hose and to make sure that the leaf is touching the egg as much as possible (as flat as possible). The process relies on the dye not getting to the area of the egg that is under the leaf.

Place the egg into the boiling dye water and bring back to a boil for 10 minutes – make sure that the entire egg is under water. It helps to have a plastic spoon to gently lower the eggs into the hot water. We boil several eggs at a time. After 10 minutes of boiling, take the eggs out with a slotted spoon (if you want to keep the dye for a new batch of eggs) and run eggs under cold water as you take the hose/leaf off. You should see the relief of the leaves or herbs on the eggs.

Eggs before cooking – herbs are held around the egg
with a sheer material and secured with string.
Eggs after cooking and rinsing – herbs were dandelion leaves,
carrot tops and cilantro. Note that some herbs leave
green on the egg. Blueberry leaves and violets leave a blue relief
(sorry we do not have any pictures of those). 
Another batch of eggs after cooking and rinsing – herbs were dandelion leaves,
carrot top, dill, yarrow leaves, partridge berry (leaves and berry),
cinquefoil leaves and cilantro.
We also tried some food grade netting instead of hose
(see egg left bottom) that left (undesirable) lines on the egg. 

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