My good friend and former next door neighbor, Inga, is the one who introduced me to this method of coloring eggs for Easter. She grew up in Latvia and her family would use onion skins to get the coloring for the eggs, and use gauze or cheesecloth to wrap leaves, flowers, or other items to make patterns on the eggs. I never got a chance to do it with her, but thought it would be neat to try sometime.
As it turns out, using onion skins for coloring is one of the ways to get eggs red colored for Greek Easter. When I was growing up, we attended a Catholic church and with my mom’s family being Greek Orthodox, we would celebrate both Western Easter and Greek Orthodox Easter. Some years, the 2 Easters would fall on the same date, other years they are on different dates. Why different dates? Both use the same rules, it must be after the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, after Jewish Passover, with the first full moon on a Sunday after the 21st of March. However, the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar to find the date, and Western churches use the Gregorian calendar to find the date. This year, they are a week apart, Western Easter is Sunday, April 7, and Orthodox Easter is Sunday, April 15. I didn’t know all the reasons back then, I just thought it was cool to get to have 2 Easter celebrations each year. And even now, I just have bits and pieces of traditions. So, here is what I remember us doing. For Greek Easter each year, we would go to my grandparents house for dinner. I don’t know that I remember eating lamb, but I’m sure we did a few times. I do remember sitting down to dinner and my grandparents, my mom, and my aunts and uncle, would all sing a Greek Easter hymn, “Xristos Anesti”, which means Christ is Risen. Here is how it is sung: Xristos Anesti Hymn.
Then, we would pass around the colored, hard-boiled eggs, and play the egg game. Your goal is to keep your egg from getting cracked, while cracking everyone else’s egg. You want to make sure you get a good grip on it, then you take turns lightly tapping each others eggs. Once your egg is cracked on both ends, you are out. If you manage to keep your egg intact, then you are the winner!
So, back to the eggs. Yes, there are artificial colors and dyes to make all kinds of pretty colored eggs, but there are natural ways to color them too. There are a variety of foods and spices that can be used to get various colors, here are a few:
Yellow or red onion skins: Reddish brown color
Red cabbage: Blueish color
Coffee: Brown color
Beets: Pink color
Turmeric: Yellow egg
I can only vouch for the onion skins. I used mostly yellow onion skins and a few red onion skins to get the eggs the color in the picture at the top. I was pretty impressed with the whole process. Four of the eggs I put straight into the color, then four of the eggs I put various items around, one had mint leaves, one had rosemary leaves, one had oregano leaves, and one had rice, then I wrapped them in gauze and tied the ends to keep it in place. Yes, I know I only used 8 eggs, but that was all I had. Easter crept up on me this year.
To make the color, here is what you need:
Outer skins from 10-15 yellow onions
4 1/2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
You mix all this in a large pot, making sure it is a pan that won’t stain from the color. Bring it to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to low to simmer for 20 minutes. The water will become a red-orange color. Next, carefully add the eggs to the pot, nestling them underneath the onion skins and making sure they are fully covered by the colored water. I used a slotted spoon to lower them in the pot.
Cover the pot again, keep the heat on low, and simmer with the eggs in for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and check the color. If they are not yet the desired color, keep covered as they cool and then move to the refrigerator until they reach your desired color. I found that mine needed about 20 minutes more after being removed from heat to get the color I wanted, I didn’t have to put them in the refrigerator. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove the eggs from the pot and put on wire racks to cool and dry. Remove the gauze and pattern items.
Once they are cool, rub butter or vegetable oil over the eggs to give them a shiny finish. Then, you are set to play the egg game and enjoy the hard-boiled eggs!