Friday, April 14, 2017

A Garden to Dye For!

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

By Signe Langford


Let’s talk about two of my favourite things: gardening and Easter. I love Eastertime; the chocolate, the return of spring, the chocolate, dying eggs…wait, did I already mention the chocolate?

All kidding aside, give me a natural Easter egg any day over some confection dyed some garish chemical shade of electric pink. We all love the pretty colours of Easter eggs, but there is a way to do it naturally, and from the ground up…literally!

Colouring Easter eggs is fun for everyone, especially the kiddos. Here’s how to do it without chemical, and possibly harmful, dyes. Natural, plant-derived colours are softer and subtler – which I happen to prefer to the brash hues of artificial dyes – and what’s better, you can go one step further and grow some of your own dye-producing plants.


Easter Egg Garden: Grow These Plants for Natural Colours


Beets – the darker the red the better. Grow them in loose soil, in full sun to part shade.

Blueberries – these tasty berries lend a soft blue-grey colour to white eggs. The blueberry shrub does best in acidic soil (between pH 4 and 5), in full sun. If yours aren’t doing so well, try digging some coffee grounds into the soil at the base of the plant.

Photo on the left by Signe Langford. Photo on the right by Jeff Coulson

Blackberries and Raspberries – both of these members of the rubus family grow quickly and spread like weeds. The berries give off a colour ranging from soft, barely there pink to a deeper purplish tone.

Photo by Signe Langford

Boston Ivy and Wild Grapes – either of these prolific climbers might be growing on a fence near you right now! The tiny berries produce a soft purple colour.

Purple or Red Cabbage – these brassicas can thrive all the way north to zone 1. To achieve a soft red colour, boil up the tough outer leaves.

Saffron Crocus – a fall-blooming, true crocus survives as far as zone 5; it needs a sunny spot, in well-drained soil. It’s great as part of a rock garden. Harvest the stigma, dry and use in cooking or for turning white eggs a light orangey-red.

Spinach – this somewhat dainty green prefers loamy soil, in full sun, and at cooler temperatures. Boil and mush up the leaves and stems for a soft and pretty pastel green.


Yellow Cooking Onion – they thrive in almost all soil types, other than hard-packed clay; they need lots of sun. To produce a pinkish-red colour on white eggs, boil the skins. This is how traditional Greek red Easter eggs (kokkina avga) are made.

Of course planting an Easter Egg Garden is something to do now for next year. This Easter, visit a grocery store for everything you need.


From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

You’ll Need:  


white vinegar
vegetable oil
white eggs – free run, of course!

Natural Dyes:

saffron
turmeric
undiluted, well-steeped black tea
undiluted black coffee
undiluted soy sauce
oranges, for the peels
beets, beet juice or leftover brine from pickled beets
blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries
yellow cooking onion, for the skins
spinach
undiluted red wine
cranberries
red or purple cabbage


From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Here’s How:


It’s easy to do, and the effect is prettier and more delicate. For the best and strongest results, start with white eggs.

First, give eggs a wash in cold, running water to remove any natural coating or dirt.

Add 15 mL (1 Tbsp) of white vinegar for every 250 mL (1 cup) of water in a saucepan. The vinegar is acidic and will etch the calcium of the eggshell, making it more porous and therefore more receptive to the colour. The vinegar will also draw the colour out of whatever dye material you’re using.

Add the berry, leaf, spice or whatever colour you’re working with, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook it until you like the colour of the water. But remember, if the water is say, dark red, the egg will end up a soft red or dark pink.

Now add the eggs and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the eggs cool along with the water; the longer you leave the eggs in, the darker they’ll be, up to 24 hours!

Remove the eggs from the dye bath and set them on a wire cooling rack over a surface you don’t care about: newspaper or old rags. Let them dry completely before handling them.

When the eggs are bone dry, give them a little polish with a soft rag and a dab of vegetable oil. Not only will they be beautiful, they will be edible! I think they look like polished marble; so pretty and elegant on the table.

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From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

I called on my friend, Chef Christine Cushing to share her family’s recipe and her know-how for my book, Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden and I am sharing it again here! Traditionally, the eggs are dyed with onion skins, giving them a very subtle hue indeed. I wanted a little more pizzazz, so I added some beet juice to the water when dying mine.


This post was written by Signe Langford











Signe Langford is a restaurant-chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes. She is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Life, Canadian Living and Garden Making magazines. In 2105, Signe published her first book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden- with 100 Recipes
Raised in the town of Hudson, Quebec Signe grew up surrounded by an ever changing menagerie of critters, both wild and domestic, and her special affection for all feathered creatures has never flagged. At present, she shares a downtown Toronto Victorian with a tiny flock of laying hens. For more stories and recipes please visit www.signelangford.com

4 comments:

  1. What lovely colorings in those eggs. I'm sure it's much "safer" to use natural dyes as well as being beautiful.
    Happy Easter

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  2. The natural coloring of the eggs are spectacular....I've been playing with using natural dyes which are so much prettier....Happy Easter.

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  3. Jennifer, thank you SO much for this. I am seeing naturally died eggs quite a bit, for the first time this Easter, and I think they are so beautiful. Now I know how to create them. Again, I thank you, and I hope you had a wonderful Easter.
    xo.

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  4. Yes they are so lovely, and very unique!

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