Andreja Brulc's Blog

‘Lost and Found’: How to Dye Easter Eggs in Onion Skin with Leaf Pattern

Posted in Lost and Found by andrejabrulc on 07/04/2012

Easter Saturday is for different cultural traditions the last chance to prepare for the great Feast on Easter Sunday, and one of the most important elements to this Feast are, of course, Easter Eggs. Our today’s preference may be for the one made in chocolate, but the making of Easter Eggs is traditionally not associated with chocolate but rather with the process of dyeing.

Lost and Found

Today, I shall be testing my culinary skills by using the traditional method of dyeing chicken eggs in onion skin and making patterns using various leaves I can find in the garden. The method, described below, is straightforward indeed, enjoyable and fun thing to do with your kids that does not take very long (1-hour max).

Why the ‘lost and found’ notion in the method? When I moved to London 20 years ago, I could not resist the temptation of the modern chocolate eggs for many years to come. But a few years ago the above result came into existence, a mixture of both worlds. The traditional method, used by many generations in Slovenia, comes from the kitchen of my granny and my mum, and it certainly seems to be one of the most popular methods in Central Europe. The origins of the method of dyeing in onion skin seems to have been widely used in various traditions, including in the Greek Orthodox Easter. However, the Jewish Passover seems to be by far more closely related to the method I shall describe, as it uses various leaves for making patterns. It would be fun to find more about the origins of this method by next Easter! According to my British mother-in-law, who was brought up in her second home around Newcastle away from the bombs flying over Kent aimed at London during the WWII, dyeing eggs in onion peel also has a very long tradition in the North of England, and I believe, in Scotland. She told me today (Easter Sunday) that leaves are also added to the egg, but onion skin is then attached to the egg. However, in her method, the leaf design comes out more blurred or even abstracted. I am glad we can share our experiences in the making of Easter Eggs. Through reconnecting to our roots and traditions, preparing Easter Eggs is indeed an exciting way of sharing our experiences in similarities and differences – isn’t that what multiculturalism is all about? It goes back to the kitchen! This article aims to share varied experiences, as the making of Easter Eggs is also a celebration of our previous generations from different cultures.

The context

But before I describe my method, I would like to place the making of Easter Eggs into the context. The method of dyeing chicken eggs is nothing new. It goes back as far as pagan times, used to celebrate the beginning of Spring – the celebration was focused on the theme of the rebirth of nature after a long period of winter, and the egg became a symbol of the source of life. This concept is still at the core of many cultural traditions around the world. Just like in the case of decorating Christmas Trees, the making of Easter Eggs was also incorporated into Christianity, both in Western and Eastern Churches. The process of recycling this old pagan custom gave a different meaning to the making as it became associated with the body of Christ – there are, however, some local variations, for instance, in central Europe, an egg dyed or painted in red came to represent the blood of Christ. But in both cases, the egg is a symbol of resurrection. Natural dye for Easter Eggs was made from local resources, from extracting various vegetables and plants found in nature. For instance, in central Europe, such as in Slovenia, one of the most common dyes used was red due to the abundance of red beets. Later on, when industrial colours became available, eggs would be painted with bright colours, or even processes, such as subtracting, adding, marbling or whatever pattern was desired, were introduced. The method of dyeing still seems to be the more popular choice in the Catholic communities of Eastern and Central Europe, as well as in other parts of Europe whose Christian communities belong to the Orthodox Church. Furthermore, in Christianity, the Easter egg tradition may have further emerged as a celebration of the end of 40 days of fasting during the Lent period. Traditionally, all eggs would have been consumed a day before the Lent began on Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras). For this reason, the Shrove Tuesday is reserved for making pancakes in the UK, while in Slovenia for making doughnuts as part of the carnival tradition.

On the other hand, the West has predominantly embraced a more modern custom with chocolate eggs of various sizes or plastic eggs filled with confectionery, such as jelly beans. Chocolate Eggs are indeed a modern invention, as a result of the industrial revolution of the 19th century that enabled a mass production. They first appeared in Germany and France as Easter presents. The Continental fashion spread to the UK, with Cadbury Easter Egg that first appeared in 1875. According to the Locally Sourced, the maker informs us that their Creme Egg is the number one best seller of Easter Eggs in the world, with more than 213 million eaten every year! The number is rather astonishing, as, in my opinion, I only tried the egg once, but could not finish it – I am not a chocoholic, so for me, too much sugar rather than cocoa, is rather nothing that something.

Chocolate Easter Bunnies also came from the southwestern Germanic tradition of the early 17th century – i.e. the mythical humanoid rabbit that brings baskets of coloured eggs to children. Germans further invented a very popular children’s Easter Egg Hunt, now played across the globe. While on the hunt, children have to search for eggs in the garden on an Easter Sunday morning that Bunny left them there hidden over night! In addition, the Germans were also the first who created edible Easter Bunnies in the early 1800s. Rabbits and hares, of course, have nothing to do with Christianity, so the element of rabbits and eggs is purely of a pagan origin, as a symbol of springtime fertility and rebirth. Many other traditional games have developed around Easter egg, including competitions of eggs rolling down the hill or tapping each other’s eggs. Also, exchanging Easter Eggs as presents has generally become a way of expressing love and friendship.

Method

I normally use a pack of 12 medium size Free Range Eggs.

Advice: while using the skin from 5 ordinary onions, add skin from 2 red onions as it gives an extra kick to the intensity of natural colour. If you do not have the red sort in your cupboard, that’s fine too, they will just appear lighter in brown colour.

If you feel lazy, you can just add your eggs straight to the water full of skin, then slowly bring to boil and cook them for 10 mins with the gas down. Once cooked, you have two options: some people say it’s best to leave them in water to cool down so that they do not go green on the rims of the yellow of the egg, while others believe that if you pour over them with cold water after cooking is finished, you get a better result. I agree with the second option!

For decoration

1. First collect various leaves of plants, grass and weeds from your garden – the better the shape, the better the result.

2. Recycle your old tights/nylon socks. If you have them in your wardrobe, otherwise, the cheapest kind in your corner shop will do, cut them into pieces larger than the egg, and find the thread for a later use.

3. Then stick a leaf onto each egg or wrap around it, and while holding it down tight on the egg, wrap the piece of tights around the egg. Then squeeze the piece of tights gently so that it holds the leaf well in place, and while twisting the end tightly, finally wrap around the thread, so that the piece of thighs stays put on the egg during cooking. One egg done, more to go, the same process, different design.

4. For an extra shine, when the eggs are more or less cooled down, add a bit of olive oil on a piece of paper kitchen towel, put the egg onto it and by holding them both in your hands gently roll the egg among your hands.

Of course, again, I had to add chocolate eggs, as I live in London after all, where different cultures meet and mix. Happy Easter.

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