Color Easter eggs naturally, with a bit of help from kitchen staples
After the cold, dark days of winter, we welcome the new growth of spring.
Since the vernal equinox on March 20, our daylight hours have been gradually increasing. Backyard chickens are noticing, too. Their egg-laying depends upon light, and there isn't enough throughout the late fall and winter. But things pick up in March (unless they are industrial hens, where artificial light is used to keep production steady). It's fitting that eggs have been a symbol of rebirth in many cultures for thousands of years.
An ancient Roman proverb, "omne vivum ex ovo," translates to "all life comes from an egg." Norooz (also spelled Nowruz), or Persian New Year, is a 3,000-year-old secular holiday observed on the first day of spring. Beautifully decorated eggs symbolize fertility on the celebratory table. In China, kids try to balance eggs on end during Li Chun, the beginning of spring on the lunar calendar. Across the American southwest, brightly decorated "cascarones" are popular during spring celebrations. These confetti-filled eggshells are cracked open over heads to bring good luck. And, of course, colorful eggs are part of the Easter tradition.
This year, why not try a new/old spin on that custom and make your dye using vegetables, spices and kitchen scraps? If you are willing to forgo instant gratification, the resulting egg hues from an overnight dip can be intense compared to the commercial-kit route. Don't give away the expected color of the different ingredients, as the results can be a delightful surprise in the morning. These eggs will make for a lovely centerpiece arranged in a bowl.
You may want to boil the eggs ahead of time and cool them either in an ice bath or in the fridge. Allow them to come to room temperature for about an hour before dyeing. You can use any colored eggs, but the white shells will produce more vivid colors.
This recipe produces six core colors, but you can extend the rainbow if you soak the eggs in the dyes sequentially. For instance, to make green eggs, you'd soak at least 30 minutes in the turmeric (yellow) and then another 60-plus minutes in the red cabbage (blue).
Kids can develop a strong sense of ownership over their eggs, so you may want to divide the dyes into separate Mason jars or dishes so everyone can tell whose are whose later. The dye won't go as far this way, but it may keep the peace. If you'd like your eggs to be shinier and have a deeper finished color, you can rub a small amount of canola or corn oil onto the eggs with a paper towel once they are dry.
Because this is such a fun project, you will likely end up with more hard-boiled eggs than you can reasonably eat. That's another opportunity to bring the kids back into the kitchen to create more good things to eat. Search online for "deviled egg chicks" to see how to make an adorable version of the classic. Or try making breakfast pizzas, using chopped eggs, cooked sausage and cheese atop English muffin halves or mini-naan flatbreads.
Either way, may you enjoy a bright and bountiful spring.
• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and a mother from Arlington Heights. She runs School of Food out of her home. See the school's Facebook page @learngrowcookeat or contact Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural Easter Eggs
For one quart of dye per color, enough for 10-12 eggs.
6 quarts water
4 cups red beets, chopped (pink/red)
4 cups yellow onions skins (peach/orange)
8 tablespoons ground turmeric (yellow)*
4 cups red cabbage, shredded (blue)
4 cups red onion skins (plum/brick)
4 bags hibiscus tea (like Red Zinger) (lavender)
1½ cups white vinegar
For each dye, add 1 quart of water to a saucepan with the coloring agent and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour dye through a mesh strainer into another saucepan. Stir 4 tablespoons of vinegar into the liquid.
*The turmeric does not require heat or straining. For the yellow dye, simply stir it into a quart of warm water then add the vinegar.
Arrange eggs in a single layer in a baking dish, or into separate glass jars, and pour dye over them until covered completely. Move the dish or jars to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. The longer they stay submerged, the darker the resulting color. After the designated soak, carefully remove the eggs with tongs or a slotted spoon and place on a cooling rack.
If you are not going to eat them within the hour, store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.