ashley englishsmall measures

Small Measures: Naturally Dyed Eggs

by Ashley


I think I was about 5 years old the first time I attended the Easter Egg hunt held on the grounds of the White House. While I don’t recall all of the specifics, I do remember with clarity that there was a line to get in that wrapped nearly all the way around the property gates, there were many giddy, excited children dressed in adorable dresses and suits, and there were loads of eggs scattered and hidden about, just waiting to be scooped up by expectant, happy hands.

I’m deep in the throes of planning an Easter Egg gathering of my own. While, clearly, it won’t be as grandiose as that held at the White House, it will, I think, be just as fun, just as festive, and just as memorable as those hunts from my youth. And it will involve a good amount of dyed eggs.

Since I’m a gal that tends towards the natural in most things, the eggs we’ll be festooning our fields and forests and feasting table with will be dyed using natural elements. It’s really quite easy to do, and can often be achieved with foods you may very well already have in your fridge or pantry. However you celebrate the arrival of spring, from Easter to Passover to Beltane, naturally dyed eggs help enliven and enrich the setting. Happy Spring! –Ashley English

The Goods:

Step inside your pantry, open your refrigerator, survey your garden, or stop by the market to pick up dye bath materials. Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, partnered up with a bit of vinegar, provide all of your raw materials. The dye bath agents you select will be based on both what color you’d like to achieve, and how deeply you want the color to appear. The rule of thumb is to use more dye bath material and infuse longer to achieve the deepest colors. My naturally dyeing process involves both a hot stovetop boil and a room temperature infusion. Over the years I’ve found this achieves the best overall end result color, in terms of intensity.

Here’s a sampling of colors offered by dyeing agents:

Spinach=Pale Green (you can also use chlorophyll extract)

Orange marigold leaves=Pale Yellow

Turmeric=Golden Yellow

Cranberries=Pale Purple

Blueberries=Blue-Purple

Raspberries=Lavender

Pomegranates=Light Red (juice or seeds)

Beets=Pale Pink

Red Cabbage=Dark Pink/Dark Blue (a longer infusing time will create a deeper colored egg)

Coffee Grounds=Dark Brown

Onion Skins=Copper

The Deal:

1) After you’ve selected your dyeing agent(s), place it in a large pot. Add a quart of cold water and 2 tablespoons white vinegar; bring to a boil (you’ll need separate pots for each color, so you might have to do your dyeing in shifts if you want more than four colors). Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes

2) Add however many raw eggs you’d like to dye to each dye bath. Boil for 30 minutes.

3) During this time, use a wooden spoon or spatula to periodically turn the eggs over so as to help the dye adhere to all sides of the egg. You can drain off the dyeing agents before you simmer the eggs, but be aware that the dye colors won’t be as intense. On the other hand, boiling the eggs and dyeing agents together can create a mottled, rough texture and appearance on the egg’s surface. I enjoy that aspect of the end product, but if you think you won’t, then you may want to drain off the solids first.

4) Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the eggs to glass jars, using one jar for each color. Strain off the dye bath solids and pour the infused liquid into each jar.Β Cover with lids and allow to infuse at room temperature overnight.

5) Remove the eggs from the dye bath. Blot gently with a paper towel or cloth. If you’d like them shiny, buff them up with a little bit of olive or vegetable oil.

What about you? Have any naturally dyed egg tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. The colors produced this way are so, so beautiful. Eggs, botanicals, edibles-it all adds up to a good way to dye!

*Images and styling by Jen Altman.

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