“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at.”
Henry David Throeau, Walden
I am gazing in wonder at the gorgeously colored Easter eggs lined up in cartons on our counter. Scents of warm wine, spicy turmeric, and tangy onion skins waft around the kitchen in the breeze from the open back door. We are drinking wine and dyeing eggs with natural, household ingredients. And I am wondering why we ever did it differently, why we ever substituted chemical, neon powders and plastic dipping sticks for the rich, evocative colors and engaging practice of dyeing eggs with wine, onion skins, turmeric, beets, and cabbage.
Perhaps I’m just tipsy, but the more I think about it, the more troubled I am by this wasteful commodity masquerading as an essential Easter tradition. Take the massive, dye-kit company PAAS for example. PAAS had humble beginnings in the late 1800s when a New Jersey drug store owner, William Townley, began making and selling dye tablets that tinted eggs. Today, Americans purchase more than 10 million PAAS Easter Egg Color Kits during the Easter season. The PAAS website proudly states that, “If you lay all of the PAAS wire dippers end-to-end, they would equal the height of 6, 628 Washington Monuments.” Well, that’s a bizarre way to put it, considering those wire dippers and the other dye kit materials are now in landfills across the nation.
PAAS also tells us that people have been dyeing eggs in China and Persia for 3000 years. Whatever did they do before PAAS came along with packaged kits? A common element of our wasteful, consumerist culture is that we don’t know we need something until the company that produces it tells us we do. And they tell us in such a compelling, glittery way that we feel like our lives were empty and difficult before they invented this new luxury. And then we spend a few dollars on something we already have or could easily make ourselves. Finally, we throw away half or all of what we bought because the packaging or even the entire product is disposable. Though all egg dye kits are labeled non toxic, many are also made from coal tar and petroleum products and contribute to the global petroleum addiction and oncoming crisis.
What I’m talking about here is an issue of consumerism, advertising aimed at children, cheap products made in foreign factories for abominably low wages, toxicity, and plain old wastefulness.
Here’s how we can take back this tradition and provide a solid example for children while having a good old fashioned time.
- Buy local eggs from farms where chickens are free-range. This makes a healthier, tastier egg for you and better treatment for animals who spend their lives producing food for humans.
- Use dyes from household ingredients. This is more fun, less expensive, and creates far less wastes. It teaches little people and big people alike how to be independent and creative. We see that we don’t need store-bought kits manufactured far away and shipped to us in pristine packaging.
- Have an egg hunt! This is the best part and not to be missed. Adults enjoy this just as much as children. Seven of my adult friends spent more than an hour hiding and finding eggs in the park next to our house.
Here’s how to dye eggs using natural ingredients:
Turmeric makes a gorgeous, gold egg. Add two tablespoons of turmeric and a few teaspoons of vinegar to water and boil eggs in the mix for 15 minutes. Let soak after cooking for darker color.
Yellow onion skins make another shade of lovely gold. We added orangey shallot skins for the deep red tone. Save the papery parts of onion skins until you have about a cup. Put them in the boiling water with the eggs and a few teaspoons of vinegar.
Purple cabbage creates a soft blue or lavender. Boil the eggs with vinegar and chopped purple cabbage. Let the eggs soak in the cabbage skin water until cool for a more vibrant color.
For a green egg, take an egg boiled blue from purple cabbage and dip it in the turmeric water for a few minutes.
Grated, raw beets, boiled with the eggs and vinegar produce a lighter pink color.
Note: vinegar acts as a mordant, securing the dye to the egg shell. Don’t skip it.
How to Keep it Fun with Kids:
Kids have to be careful around boiling water, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take part in the fun of egg dyeing. Younger children can draw on eggs with crayons or oil pastels before the egg is boiled. Using a white crayon will create an egg-white design that remains on the egg because the dye won’t stick to the wax in the crayon. If the child is old enough they can help prepare or stir the mixtures with supervision. And of course they can help hide and hunt the eggs.