What is it about a brightly colored egg that brings joy to the heart and makes us think of spring? Decorating eggs is one of the most beloved of Easter rituals, with everyone in the family getting into the act.
Kids love creating funky works of art with commercial dye kits and the stickers that come in them. But contrary to what some moms think, there's no such thing as an ugly Easter egg -- only one more suited to an egg hunt than the dining room centerpiece. For decorating the house, adults and older children can dye their own, more artistic eggs.
Many of the techniques used by serious egg artisans to create heirloom treasures can be simplified and adapted for use by anyone feeling creative. Here are some inexpensive ideas that don't involve specialized supplies.
Start with the basics:
How to boil an egg
Actually, the American Egg Board recommends that you don't boil eggs. Bring them just to the boiling point in a covered pan, then remove from the heat. Let the eggs stand until cooked, 20 to 25 minutes.
If you want to keep decorated eggs for longer than a week or so, you'll need to create a hollow egg. These can be kept for years.
How to hollow out an egg
Craft stores sell a handy tool that makes this an easy process, but most of us just blow out the insides. Dye the eggs first; hollow eggs float around in the liquid and don't color as evenly.
Use a large needle to pierce each end of the egg, making a larger hole at the larger end. Stick the needle in and break up the yolk. Blow into the smaller hole, forcing the insides out into a bowl. Rinse the shell and let it dry.
Color to dye for
This year around 180 million eggs will be decorated with the Paas egg kits that are available in every supermarket and drugstore. (If you're wondering about the funny name, it comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch word "Passen," meaning Easter.) But you do have other choices -- including other dye kits like Dudley's, available at some discount stores. Whatever method you use, mix the dye in relatively high, narrow mugs or glasses so the eggs can be completely submerged. Here are some other options:
* Food coloring. The advantage of using food coloring is that you can mix your own colors. Combine 1/2 cup of boiling water, 1 teaspoon of white vinegar and drops of food coloring for each shade. For instance, purple is made from 15 drops of blue and 5 drops of red. Call McCormick/Schilling's toll-free number (800-632-5847) for a free Egg Dye Color guide, or get information and neat ideas on the company's Web site (www.mccormick.com).
* Aniline dyes. These are the powdered dyes used in decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs, a traditional art form. Available at craft stores, these dyes are brilliant and fast-acting.
* Natural dyes. Before Paas and glitter kits, before you could create fuchsia and teal and maize-colored eggs, there were natural dyes. These are made from common vegetables, leaves and spices. They are fun to experiment with, and have a charm all their own; but expect some funky results. And you won't end up with the same clear, intense colors you get with dye kits or food coloring.
There are hundreds of natural dye sources; here are just some suggestions to get you started.
* Yellow: yellow onion skins, goldenrod
* Red: fresh beets
* Blue: red cabbage leaves, frozen blueberries and their juice
* Gold: ground turmeric
* Green: spinach leaves, sage
* Brown: coffee
Prepare dye ingredients by chopping or shredding when appropriate. Place in a pan and add just enough water to cover. Simmer until the water reaches the desired color. Strain and add a tablespoon of white vinegar for each cup of dye (except for dyes made from onion skins). Let hard-cooked eggs stand in the dye until they reach the desired color.
Purists love solid Easter eggs in pastels and rich jewel tones, but it's fun to experiment as well. McCormick/Schilling suggests two techniques to try:
* Marbleizing. Combine 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon vegetable oil, 8 drops of food coloring in a shallow bowl. Make two different colors. Gently roll the egg into the mixture until you get the desired shade, then transfer to the other color and repeat. Allow the egg to dry completely, then wipe away the excess oil.
* Painting. Combine 10 drops of food coloring, 1/2 teaspoon of water and 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar in a small bowl. With a thin paintbrush or cotton swab, paint polka dots, strips or other designs on the egg. If you're feeling artistic, try more elaborate patterns like paisleys.
You can also, of course, use paint to paint eggs. Good choices are watercolors for a soft effect and acrylics, which are very bright. Hand-painted eggs should be preserved with a clear finish, such as polyurethane from a hardware store or -- in a pinch -- clear nail polish.