A natural approach

I loved dying Easter eggs as a kid.

I can remember laying down sheets of newspaper on the dining room table and setting up mugs, one for each color. We added a spoon to each mug to anchor rolling eggs in the colored water.

But I would plunk my egg in the mug and yank it back out shortly thereafter, producing an egg with more of a tint than a color.

My parents, and maybe even my older siblings, knew the longer it sat, the deeper and more beautiful the final result – a lesson which has taken me a bit longer to master in life.

We used crayons to draw symbols such as a cross or a flower on our eggs. Each of us made one egg with our name written on it, and it was this egg that often took center stage in our baskets on Easter morning.

The Easter Bunny always hid our baskets, but left us a note with a clue as to its whereabouts. That is one of the family traditions I look forward to passing on to my own children one day.

In all those years, I never really wondered about the religious meaning behind dyeing Easter eggs, though. It was just fun.

My husband said the egg in Christianity represents new life. The website www.feastoffeasts.org revealed some other great metaphors such as the tradition of the egg rolling game in England and Scotland, which is part of my ancestry. Dropping an egg to roll down a hill symbolized the stone rolling away from the tomb.

The site also talked about dyeing eggs in ancient times, when they used flowers and berries to color them.

I decided to look up a natural way to dye Easter eggs this year and found a recipe “Real Simple” magazine had posted online.

The recipe said to use blueberries to make the color blue, raspberries for pink, the spices turmeric for yellow and paprika for orange. Green was achieved through combining the blue and yellow dyes. It also said you could use instant coffee grounds to make brown, but I stuck with the other five colors.

To save time, I hard-boiled my eggs the night before. A phone call to Mom was necessary first. I know I’ve hard-boiled an egg before, and I can cook, I swear, but how to hard-boil an egg just wasn’t filed away in the memory.

Here’s what my mom had to say: Never use an aluminum pot to boil eggs because of a chemical reaction with the egg that she had heard would turn the pot black. Cover eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, remove from the heat, put a lid on the pot and wait 15 minutes.

“They’re perfect every time,” she said. And, of course, they were. Thanks, mom.

Before making the dyes, I prepped my dining room table, covering it with newspaper. I then headed to the kitchen and made each dye one at a time.

Following the instructions, I brought each berry or spice individually to a boil with 2 cups of water and left each concoction to boil for about five minutes. The smell of turmeric boiling is pungent and out of the four dyes I made it was the strongest, seeing as it stained my fingers and my cutting board.

After boiling each berry, I strained the berry pulp through a colander with a large glass bowl underneath to catch the liquid. The spice mixtures went straight into their large glass bowl with no straining.

I stirred in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the berry-based dyes and the same amount of vinegar to the spice-based dyes. Once it cooled, I poured each dye mixture into a mug. You might want to give the spice dyes a stir before pouring them into the mugs because I didn’t and the spices had settled at the bottom of the bowl. In fact, looking back I would probably stir the spice dyes before dyeing each egg, too.

I took the mugs to the dining room and carefully lowered each egg with the spoon’s help into the dye.

And then I waited. Patiently.

I forgot to time the first batch, but the second and third batch I let soak for about 20 and 30 minutes, respectively.

The results were lovely. The eggs were a muted pastel, reminiscent of river rocks, my cousin, who saw a picture, said. The turmeric and the blueberries seemed to work the best. The recipe said in order to make green dye, mix yellow and blue, and although the resulting mixture appeared muddy, the egg I pulled out later was a beautiful soft green. I let the eggs drip dry on a paper towel and gently blotted them before their big photo shoot for this story.

The negatives of dyeing your Easter eggs naturally are probably obvious: the cost and the time. I also wouldn’t recommend the process with young kids unless you prep everything ahead of time and come up with a plan to keep them occupied between dyeing times.

I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I’ve dyed Easter eggs with my nieces and nephews on occasion. I’ve watched with amusement as they scribbled with crayon, plopped their egg in the mug of colored water and seconds later plucked it back out. Some things never change.

The older I get the more I appreciate my family, our traditions and even letting things soak a bit longer in order to experience deeper meaning and a more beautiful result. This project was a good reminder of that.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.