How to Make Easter Eggs Using Onion Skins – Ukrainian Style
Decorating Easter eggs wasn't always as simple as dipping boiled eggs in food coloring and vinegar.
In Ukraine and other Orthodox countries, Easter eggs are traditionally dyed a reddish-brown color using onion skins. It's cheap, easy, and doesn't involve any unnatural chemicals or dyes. Best of all, it's fun for both parents and children.
I learned how to dye eggs this way from my grandmother, who was born in Ukraine. She made them every year, embellishing them with beautiful designs. In my family, those skills are long lost, but the basic dying process remains part of our family traditions.
What You Need
- White eggs. Brown ones also work, but you get better hues out of white eggs.
- Onion skins. It's best to start collecting onion skins a few weeks before Easter. Note that they come in different shades: red, brown and yellow. Sort your onion skins by color if you want to have different shades.
- Cheesecloth. You'll need a porous cloth for the onion-skin wrap method.
Onion Skin Dip Method
The easiest way to make Easter eggs is the onion-skin dip method, in which you boil eggs together with onion skins.
Collect all the onion skins of a single color (yellow, brown or red) into a pot. Add water. Place the eggs inside the pot and bring to a boil. After a few minutes, you'll notice that the water becomes the color of tea. The longer it boils, the darker the water gets. The same goes for your eggs. Let the eggs boil for at least five minutes, then take them out at different times to get different shades.
The eggs will come out a deep, rich brown. The color of the skins and the length of time boiled determine the color and hue of the eggs. Red onion skins make the prettiest eggs.
Onion Skin Wrap Method
A variation is to wrap each egg in onion skins and boil them in plain water. To do this, soak the onion skins to make them soft and pliable. Wet the eggs. Then, wrap each egg in onion skins, which will stick to the egg shell like a wet T-shirt. Then wrap each egg in cheesecloth and tie it tightly on one end. This holds the onion skins firmly in place. Put in a pot of water and bring to a boil. As in the onion-skin dip method, the longer you leave the eggs in the water, the darker they will turn out.
Once you remove the eggs, let them cool, or hold under cold water to cool quickly. Remove the cloth. The eggs will be a brownish hue, but will have interesting patterns instead of the uniform shade of eggs prepared in the dip method.
Easter Egg Quiz
What Easter traditions do you follow involving eggs?
Ukrainians don't typically organize Easter eggs hunts; instead, they take them to church to be blessed by an Orthodox priest along with Easter cake and other food. As a child, I resented being denied the pleasure of the hunt. My kids had the pleasure of both hunting for eggs and seeing them get splashed by the priest.
There is also a game in which two people make a wish and then try to crack each others' eggs. One person holds an egg, and the other taps it with another egg. Eventually one egg will crack. The winner gets his or her wish.
In the end, the eggs get eaten.
Other Ways to Dye Easter Eggs
There are other natural ways to dye Easter eggs if you want more color options. While not traditionally Ukrainian, other natural colors make a nice complement to the onion-skin varieties. My favorite alternative is to use blueberries – it leaves your eggs a beautiful purple-blue color.
Some common dying agent alternatives are:
More skilled egg-makers put patterns on their eggs using panty hose and leaves, such as parsley. My attempts have rarely been successful, but the video below demonstrates how to do it if you'd like to give it a try.
I wish all my readers a Happy Easter, and I hope you'll give the onion skin method a try the next time you dye Easter Eggs.