Coloring the Cosmic Eggs, Naturally
The egg is a symbol for the mysteries of the universe. This concept permeates epic mythological tales from around the world. From the legend of pagan Ostara/Ēostere to the Christian resurrection story, the egg is the star of the show, in the Spring. I am excited to share the colorful result of this experiment! [Paid partnership with Whole Foods.]
And when M.F.K. Fisher said “The most private thing in the world is an egg before it’s cracked,” she was right.
This Spring season, I have gotten to learn more about natural egg dyes. As a kid, we would buy the dye packages with the cups and little wire tools included. I still remember getting in my Easter Sunday best to visit my grandpa's church (he's a Baptist Pastor) and then have a feast and egg hunt with my family.
Now, I have gotten to re-envision not only the process of dyeing but also explore the deeper history of Easter and her eggs.
THE DYES: A LIST AND SOME LESSONS LEARNED
From left to right, these eggs were dyed with: hibiscus rose tea, purple cabbage (yes that’s the bright blue and light blue— steeped for two different times!), blueberry, paprika, turmeric, and red beets! I also tried out red onion skins, pomegranate, and coffee, but those didn't give me the color-forward look I was going for, this time. Honestly even some of the paprika-dyed eggs looked like brown eggs and were not that interesting. My favorite colors were definitely the turmeric, purple cabbage, and blueberry! I used turmeric powder, frozen blueberries, and simply chopped and boiled the purple cabbage.
I got all these ingredients from Whole Foods, plus a rice vinegar I picked up as a freebie at this year's Natural Products Expo West. I used white eggs, so the colors would show up more clearly. The paprika, coffee, and onion skin dyes all came out pretty close to what a brown egg already looks like, so I would say maybe I would try an already-brown egg next time to see if the color gets darker.
Can you believe that is beautiful purple cabbage makes a dye that's so vibrant and blue!? That is my favorite discovery of this whole process.
SYMBOLISM AND HISTORY
For those interested in thinking about the dyes symbolically, the history of egg dyeing is fascinating, and the colors of historical egg dyes for Easter are a whole world unto themselves. I can go into the more "contemporary" (speaking very generally, here) history of the last 5,000 years, but first the deeper context is important to explore.
The oldest decorated egg is from a staggering 60,000 years ago. (And yes this is a pretty unbelievable number, but I checked it out and it's backed by University of Cambridge researchers.) The ostrich egg was probably the first type to be decorated. Its utility was as a hearty water flask, often with a grass or beeswax stopper, for long treks. And those ostrich egg flasks were "sometimes decorated with patterns engraved or painted on their surfaces [which] typically denotes ownership, but over the great depths of prehistoric time these patterns may have held many meanings." (ibid)
There is a cultural relationship between the egg and the Spring that goes back further than we can fully explore in this just one post! Decorated eggs were found at ancient tombs of Sumerian kings, including specimens from the Royal Tombs of Ur and Temple of Inanna (see here).
The Christian church officially recognized eggs as a symbol for Easter and the resurrection of Jesus in the liturgical book, Rituale Romanum, around the year 1600. But the thread of connection back to the pagan rituals of Eostere was not formally speculated on until Jacob Grimm (yes, one of the Brothers) in his book Deutsche Mythologie, which was first published in 1835. Its English translation is available online and for free, here. It is fascinating and still a little scandalizing to hear him say: "As the goddess Ostara was converted into a notion of time, so was Hellia into one of place. The beliefs of our forefathers about elves and giants got intensified and expanded into angels and devils, but the legends remained the same. [...] Veiled under the biblical names of Cain, Elias, Enoch, Anti christ, Herodias, there come into view the same old myths about moon-spots, giants buildings, a god of thunder and of storm, the gracious (holde) night-dame and the burning of the world."
What Grimm asserts is not neutral, by any stretch. And while he was the first scholar to postulate the connection, as we explore the many links of the chicken, the egg, and the church, we only just getting started.
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