If you’re of a certain age and grew up with garish Hanna-Barbera cartoons, you harbor some nostalgia for Easter eggs dyed in lavishly fake hues not found in nature. Bubblegum pink, say, or Tang orange. But aesthetics have changed since then, especially among those of us who have embraced sustainable living. We crave something more in tune with the earth using natural dyes and decorations, which is what Lia charged me to bring to you in this post.
Thankfully, there are plenty of resources for how to make dyes by boiling colorful ingredients (think beets, blueberries, and the like) to extract their pigments, which you then use to dye hard-cooked eggs (the egg-dying equivalent of using henna to color your hair). What’s Cooking America has clear instructions to make fruits, vegetables, and spices into dyes. Culinary Musings has groovy ideas for using rubber bands and tape to create batik-like patterns.
I admire people who have the patience and steady hands to turn everyday objects into works of art . . . but the truth is, I’m just not one of them. I tried to shift this assignment to one of my colleagues–Jackie, maybe, since her beautiful gyoza are edible works of art. But, no, Lia thought my Everywoman lack of handicraft skills made me an ideal candidate. If we found a project that I could master, anyone could succeed.
So off I went in search of the simple.
Luckily, Lia mentioned something about using onion skins to dye eggs. This requires nothing more than eggs, papery onion skins, cheesecloth, and kitchen twine. I loved the idea of using humble items that I had on hand to create subtly beautiful patterns reminiscent of marbled endpapers from old books. Even better, I could cook the raw eggs and dye them in one step.
The real beauty of this project is that it’s all about imperfection. The onion skins don’t have to be uniform sizes, and they needn’t be wrapped perfectly around the eggs. In fact, the more they overlap, and the less perfect they are, the more interesting the results.
Use white-shell eggs, so the subtle colors from the onion skins show up nicely. A combination of the papery skins from red and yellow onions will give the eggs a marbled yellow-and-brown pattern. Here’s what you need:
- Selection of papery skins from red and yellow onions
- White-shell eggs, at room temperature to prevent them from cracking when added to boiling water
- Cheesecloth, cut into 6-inch squares (2 yards is plenty for 6-8 eggs)
- Kitchen twine
- Vegetable oil
Place skins in a bowl of warm water to soften them. Dip an egg in warm water. Drape pieces of skin around the egg (similar to doing papier mache). Wrap the egg in a double layer of cheesecloth; secure with kitchen twine. Repeat with as many eggs, onion skins, cloth, and twine as you like.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Gently lower eggs into pan. Cook 11 minutes. Transfer eggs to an ice bath. Unwrap eggs and gently wipe them dry with a clean towel. Dip a towel in oil and rub each egg to give it a pretty sheen.
What to do with those leftover onions? Sub them for the peppers in our Sweet Pepper Confit or Quick-Pickled Red Onions (which will work with any kind of onions) to serve with your Easter meal, or on a sandwich with leftovers.
A longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and Nourish Network’s editorial director. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health.