Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Eggs

My 6th grade science fair project, which won a blue ribbon thank you very much, involved dyeing bits of fabric with food. As in beets, cabbage, blueberries, onion skins, and coffee. I think my investigation was two-fold: which plants gave the strongest dyes, and how to set the dye so I didn't wind up with only vague stains on my fabric.

It turns out the same plants can also turn my Easter Eggs lovely colors. Beets and blueberries give the girliest colors, of course, but coffee gives a nice brown, and saffron turns the eggs a very spring-like pastel yellow.

Chickens can turn their eggs lovely colors, too. Not by will, of course. Or by eating beets. Different breeds produce eggs in different colors. Yep, that whole 'brown eggs are healthier than white eggs' thing is irrelevant. The two simply come from different chicken breeds.

Riverdog's arrangement (L) and mine.

 Several years ago, I stumbled across blue Araucana eggs at the Berkeley farmers' market. Actually, I stumbled across them in Martha Stewart-- she just so happens to keep like 20 different breeds of chicken at her eensy little estate. Er, estates-- and therefore recognized them at the market. But the vendor I bought them from was elderly and frail, so I had a feeling he wouldn't be there this year. I was right. Riverdog Farm, though, had these very pretty dozens for sale, so I looked through several cartons to find just the right mix. (They probably hate that, but for six dollars a dozen, I feel entitled to pick The Perfect Eggs.)

These are almost too pretty to dye. In fact, egg producers often raise Araucanas mainly for their novelty at Easter. But I think the combination of natural shell color and plant dye makes for some striking eggs in my Easter basket.

Last year's attempt

This year, I decided to pull a few dye tricks out of my 6th grade hat, since I wasn't thrilled with my results from last year. Red onion skins, which my local grocery store gave me for free, spinach, and turmeric were added to my blueberry-and-beet-and-coffee repertoire, with some unexpected results. For one, onion skins create a seemingly intense reddish-brown dye, but their impact on my eggs was not so intense. For another, spinach made an unimpressive dye. I was disappointed. For a third, dry blueberry dye that I put on a brown egg rubbed off when I rinsed the egg, leaving not a pale blue color but a pale brown color. As in, paler than the egg originally started, as if some of the natural brown color rubbed off, too. And fourthly, two years in a row beets have left my eggs speckled pink, not pink all over.

Blue and brown eggs, before and after a blueberry bath (and naked again)

 (Upper) Brown egg in coffee bath. (Lower) Coffee egg 2nd from left in back row.

Spinach dye (blah...)

Speckled beet egg

 (L, top to bottom) 1. Naked blueberry 2. Blueberry 3. Turmeric and blueberry 4. Spinach 5. Turmeric
(R, top to bottom) 1. Onion skin 2. Coffee 3. Beet 4. Onion skin 5. White egg boiled in beet bath

One of the things I love about these dyes is how not uniform and sometimes bizarre the results are. They look nothing like the food coloring-dyed eggs of my childhood, but don't quite look they way they did last year, either. I'm not sure that what I wound up with is prettier than what I started with, but either way, these eggs look lovely at the Easter table.

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