How to make natural Easter egg dyes the old-fashioned way

How to make natural Easter egg dyes the old-fashioned way

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Quick note: The (modern-day) USDA says that when shell eggs are hard-cooked, the protective coating is washed away, leaving open pores in the shell where harmful bacteria could enter. So if you want to try this today, be sure to refrigerate eggs within two hours of cooking, and use them within a week.

Natural Easter egg dyes: Color the old-fashioned way (from 1976)

By Millie Bingham, Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) April 14, 1976

It’s been a tradition for several centuries to dye Easter eggs on the Wednesday or Thursday before Easter. In days gone by, mothers and daughters would gather roots, berries, herds and anything else they knew could be boiled down for dye baths for the symbol of man’s rebirth, the egg.

Now, after more than 120 years of dipping hardboiled eggs into artificial coloring, there’s a growing curiosity about the magic of those long ago, and often less expensive, homemade dyes for Easter eggs.

Gina Jones’ curiosity led her to discover that mint tea turns an egg green. And, depending on how long the egg is left in the tea, the color can be anywhere from a spring green to an olive green.

How to make natural Easter egg dyes the old-fashioned way
Photo by urban_light/Deposit Photos

“BUT RED raspberries don’t produce red eggs,” says the young mother who is manager of the General Nutrition Center at the Dayton Mall. She lifted a sand-colored egg from a red raspberry bath.

“Yet, if you dip this in an onion juice dye, it turns out a chocolatey brown.”

You don’t have to squeeze onions to get the juice for yellow eggs. All that’s necessary to make the yellow dye which has been used for centuries, is to peel the brownish dry skins from six large onions, and simmer them in one and a half cups of water. The longer you simmer the skins, the stronger and brighter will be the yellow dye, says Mrs Jones.

This curious lady has also discovered that grape juice won’t make purple eggs. “See — ” Mrs Jones picks out a mottled gray egg from an Easter basket. “It won’t turn to a grape color no matter how long it’s in the bath.”

RED EGGS are easy to make, if that is, you are having fresh beets for dinner.

Cook three or four large beets (don’t peel them) in two cups of water. Save the cooking water for pink to deep red eggs. And, says Mrs Jones, if you dip an onion-yellow egg into the beet juice you’ll have a pretty orange egg.

Or, if fresh broccoli or spinach is on your menu, save the cooking water, and let the children see it “magically” turn an egg green, suggests Mrs Jones.

In between customers in her store, she continues to experiment with kitchen cupboard supplies. “Try herbs, for you never know what parsley, sage or thyme will do for an egg’s color. The children will enjoy experimenting,” she suggests.

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AFTER ALL your eggs are colored, you can give them a soft sheen by rubbing them with a few drops of vegetable oil.

Children can also make their own Easter baskets, says Mrs Jones. Her natural-colored eggs fill easy-to-make bread baskets. Just add water very slowly to one cup of salt mixed into two cups of flour.

Add only enough water to make a stiff dough. Knead the dough for seven minutes, then shape it into a basket of woven dough strips. Or, shape the dough over a deep bowl. Then, make a braided, twisted or plain dough handle of two strips or more.

To reinforce the handle during baking, place a strip of aluminum foil under the curved handle (attached to your bread basket). Bake one and one-half hours at 350 degrees. When cool, fill with colored eggs and use as a table decoration.

GET THE HOW-TO: Salt dough Easter bread basket recipe from 1976

How to make natural Easter egg dyes the old-fashioned way

About Easter eggs dyes (from 1917)

From The Labor Advocate (Cincinnati, Ohio) March 31, 1917

Grandmother’s way of dyeing them beautiful hues

Aniline dyes, and, with them, the absolutely harmless Easter egg pigments are, we are told, soaring higher as to price and falling short as to quality with every day.

By taking a bit more trouble, however, the mother who objects to spending more money for an inferior article than it is worth may turn out eggs quite as attractive as the costly decorated ones by dyeing them as our grandmothers used to do them.

Grandma had but two dyes at her command, from which she evolved many shades by commingling and diluting the “tea” which she procured by steeping logwood and Pernambuco wood.

She produced charming and artistic effects by laying tender leaflets, blades of grass and red onion peel — cut in stars and crescents or just applied in a sort of hit and miss manner upon the egg — and winding narrow white tape round and round the egg to keep the leaves and peels in place.

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Natural ways to color your Easter eggs - Vintage tips
Photo by oh_sanny_day via Twenty20

An egg so swaddled, if boiled for half an hour in strong tea or coffee, or even in plain water, will come out a veritable little thing of beauty. Just wrapping an egg in this way in onion skins or young and tender spinach leaves and boiling for an hour will result in lovely green or red “marbled” eggs.

Grandma’s finest results, however, were obtained by treating the eggs — previously boiled stone hard — as follows:

With a wooden meat skewer dipped in melted wax (grandma took a candle and melted it down, but paraffin is far better) she drew upon the eggshell in heavy lines an initial, monogram, chick or bunny, and submerged the eggs so decorated for twenty-four hours in strong vinegar, the whiter the better. After which, she thoroughly rinsed them in water not too hot.

The vinegar eats away the lime surface of the egg, leaving the paraffin lines standing out in high relief. Eggs so treated look like old ivory carvings, and are truly artistic.

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