Dyed Eggs

presented at Crown Tourney in Eisental

Sarah bas Mordecai & Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

At the East Kingdom Crown Tourney in the Spring of 2001, on the dayboard, we presented both plain (undyed) hardboiled eggs, and hardboiled eggs dyed with food-safe natural dyes:

How we dyed them: 

We used 2 methods in our dyeing: either boiling the dyestuff with the eggs, or soaking the boiled eggs in a cooled infusion of the dyestuff in water. Eggs were either placed in cold water and brought up to boiling temperature (about 10-15 minutes), then boiled for 10 minutes, or, if we were working with previously heated dyewater, placed in the water, brought to a boil (about 5 minutes) and boiled for 10-15 minutes. We used USDA small eggs (small eggs make a better 'package' size on dayboards and can be obtained relatively cheaply.)

1- Red beets

Contrary to our expectations, boiling the eggs with red beets, which we thought would produce a fine strong red, produced this brown. We used a mixture of fresh beets and canned beets, about 3 cups in all.
There is some controversy over whether red beetroot was known in period in Europe, but central European sources indicate red beets were probably available there by late period.

2- Turmeric

Creating a turmeric tea (about 2 tbsp. dried, powdered turmeric root to 2 quarts hot water) and soaking the hardboiled eggs in the 'tea' produced such a lovely shade of yellow that we didn't feel the need to try any other method. The dyeing method left a faint spice odor but that tended to dissipate over time.
Turmeric was imported into Europe in small quantities for dyeing in period.

3 -Annato seed

We tried boiling the annato seeds with the eggs, which produced a lovely bright orange with darker orange streaks. (Annato seed is a south american spice/dyestuff and doesn't appear to be known in Europe in period, but it is foodsafe-- it's used in Hispanic/Latino cooking).

4 & 5- Red Cabbage

We tried both boiling the cabbage with the eggs (5) and boiling the cabbage first, then soaking the boiled eggs in it (4). Soaking the boiled eggs in the cabbage water worked best: it required at least 30 to 45 minutes of soaking to get a good color. (Adding vinegar to the cabbage water removes the dye, however.) German and Eastern European food experts claim that red cabbage was known in period.

6- Spinach/Dandelion

Boiled greens are supposed to produce a green dye, but we didn't get very far with this. We had some water from boiling spinach, but it wasn't very dark green, so we sent Aegidius out to collect dandelion leaves and other greens from the yard in the dark. About 3 cups of greens went into our dyebath, and produced this muddy greenish brown when boiled with the eggs for about 20-30 minutes.

7- Red Cabbage/Red Beets

This is what happened when we used the red beets to make a dyebath and soaked some of the red cabbage eggs in it. Using a cool red beet dyebath on plain white eggs got us a light pink, not pictured here.

8- Yellow Onion Skins

Basically, for a 3 gallon pot of water, we put in about a quart of dried onion skins (in a net onion bag, tied tightly) and boiled the eggs (they were in the water between 20 and thirty minutes).
We were so impressed with the results of boiling the eggs with the onion skins (a rich red-mahogany color) that we didn't try preparing a dyebath and putting the boiled eggs in it. Colors were varied by whether we took the eggs out of the liquid and rinsed them in cold water, or just took them out and air-dryed them. (The slightly lighter colored similar eggs to the left were rinsed slightly)

9- White egg for comparison

This is what an undyed egg obtained and boiled at the same time looked like.

Historic notes:

The exchanging of colored eggs, especially at Easter, has been documented in Britain, Russia, and most Eastern European cultures to at least the late medieval/Renaissance period (1500s and early 1600s). Colored eggs were left at graves in Slavic cultures as far back as the 1200s. Red eggs, later dyed with brazilwood, seem to have been the most popular. They may also have been dyed with alkanet, but our experiments show that red eggs could have been easily obtained by boiling eggs with the onionskins left in the onion storage!

Resources:

Gonzalez, Rosa. "To Dye For: try natural dyes for elegant Easter Eggs". Food Network. Web page:
http://www.foodtv.com/holidays/easternaturaleggdyes/0,5679,,00.html

 "Natural Dyes for Easter Eggs." In Season: Herbs and Baskets: Spring.
http://www.inseason.com/spring/eastereggdye.html

"Dyeing Eggs Naturally", Martha Stewart: Learn: Easter.
http://www.marthastewart.com/page.jhtml?type=content&id=channel1545&catid=cat385

American Egg Board, "NATURALLY DYED EGGS," http://www.aeb.org/kidsandfamily/eastereggs/naturaldyed.asp

Knab, Sophie. Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore. (NY: Hippocrene, 1996)

Newall, Venetia. An egg at Easter; a folklore study. (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1971)