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Simply MJ 

by Mary Jane Butters
Question: Are there natural dyes I can use to color Easter eggs this year? - Megan McCarthy, Spokane, WA

Mary Jane: Surely there must be some, my farm crew and I thought. We searched the Web for ideas. We found suggestions in magazines like Natural Home and Family Circle. In earnest, we tried their methods using things like blueberry juice, grape juice, shredded red cabbage and beets, onion skins and turmeric. We even tried coffee and tea. Sometimes we used vinegar and sometimes we didn't. For some we used the bring-to-a-boil method, and for some eggs, we dipped them in colored water after they were hard-boiled.

We ended up discouraged. Our counters and fingertips were stained but the natural dyes, except for turmeric, either rubbed off the eggs we used or the shading was too subtle or spotty. We did, however, find one tonic that worked and the results passed our test for making gorgeous Easter eggs. We ended up driving to town for some store- bought red, yellow, green and blue dyes available in the cake section of most any grocery store. In different glass containers deep enough to submerge an egg, we added one teaspoon vinegar for every cup of water. To that we added drops of dye until we got the shade of color we wanted.

Here's our recipe for coloring eggs with turmeric, the only natural dye that worked to our satisfaction. First, cook your eggs by putting them in a saucepan covered with cold water. Bring them to a boil and then turn the heat to a simmer for five minutes. After five minutes, remove the eggs and run cold tap water over them. In a separate saucepan, add one tablespoon turmeric powder to two cups water and bring it to a boil. After the turmeric water cools down a bit, add the hard-boiled eggs. They turn a dusty, soft yellow with or without vinegar. We liked the turmeric yellow better than the yellow store-bought dye.

Prior to dying our eggs, we used a natural method for creating delicate silhouettes and unusual patterns on eggs. We gathered the leaves and flowers of daffodils and pansies. We found interesting serrated leaves on common spring weeds and tiny leaves on our winter kale. In the forest, we found interesting ferns. We selected flat and pliable plant materials. To create our patterns, we held the selected plant flat against an already hard-cooked egg and then centered a five-inch square of nylon cut from a stocking and gathered it around to the backside. We tied it with a string. An extra set of hands helped. We submerged the egg, nylon and all, in a selected dye tonic and let it sit, lifting it occasionally with a spoon to test its "doneness." We created different shades according to how long we let them soak. After removing the nylon and leaves, we let the eggs dry in a carton and then rubbed each one with a light coating of vegetable oil. The oil helped preserve them and added a subtle shine.

To complete our "almost" natural basket of eggs, we hard-boiled the beautiful blue and brown eggs given to us each morning by our chickens and tied decorative ribbons around them. Rather than use the plastic bedding sold this time of year for Easter baskets, we gathered pine needles, grasses, and beautiful mosses to line our baskets. Pine shavings from our woodshop worked, too. The finished egg baskets made beautiful Easter gifts.

Publication date: 04/17/03

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