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Egg-cellent: Kingsford women use onion skins as natural egg dye

PAULINE HILL, LEFT, and Caren Erickson of Evergreen VIllage in Kingsford decorate Easter eggs using dried onion skins. Hill uses red skins and wraps the eggs in cheesecloth, while Erickson secures her yellow skins in a nylon stocking. Erickson’s mother-in-law introduced her to the technique more than 60 years ago. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

KINGSFORD — Easter wouldn’t seem the same without colored eggs.

While people typically turn to the popular store-bought kits, there are some creative — and natural — ways to dye eggs.

Retired Evergreen Village residents Caren Erickson and Pauline Hill spent Thursday demonstrating how dried onion skins can make eggs that are “works of art.”

Erickson learned the technique from her late mother-in-law, Mary (Weinert) Erickson Sundberg, who grew up on a farm in the Peavy Falls area.

“I had never heard of such a thing until I married my late husband (Tom) — that was more than 60 years ago,” said Erickson, noting her mother-in-law was 100% German.

Pauline Hill secures the end of her cheesecloth tube with string after filling them with eggs and red onion skins for boiling to dye them red. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

Erickson was unsure of the origin of dyeing eggs with the onion skins — just that it was a family tradition. A Google search indicated the method has a long history in Russia and the Ukraine.

Coming from a family of 10, she believe her mother-in-law’s parents did it more for entertainment value, as well as a way to repurpose things on the farm, Erickson said, adding, “I picked up a lot of frugal tips from her over the years.”

Erickson said she hadn’t colored eggs this way in years, especially after losing her husband 28 years ago. It was also due to the fact her family hasn’t been home for Easter.

“I have never known anyone else in the area to do this,” Erickson said.

But she got the itch to bring back the tradition last year. “Something was just nagging me to do it,” she said. “I mentioned it to Pauline and she said she would like to try it; so we did a few.”

CAREN ERICKSON DISPLAYS HER dyed Easter eggs using dried yellow onion skins. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

The two started to collect red and yellow onion skins about six months ago. “It took this long to get enough to decorate four dozen eggs,” Hill said.

The process begins with dipping a raw egg into a bowl of water, then arranging various small pieces of skins around the egg.

“You can do so many unique patterns,” Hill said. “The more you add, the darker it is.”

The eggs are then wrapped tightly in cheesecloth or placed in a nylon stocking, and secured by string at each end so the skins stay adhered to the egg while cooking.

“She (mother-in-law) always wrapped them in a nylon stocking because she said ‘they worked better,'” said Erickson, noting the nylon fits tighter on the egg, which lets the color penetrate more deeply.

The “tube” of wrapped eggs are then cooked in water and vinegar — keeping the red and yellow separate.

Because it has been a number of years since she did them, Erickson decided to follow a recipe she found on Google that called for sugar and salt added with the vinegar.

She won’t use that method version again, she said, as she thinks the colors didn’t come as vibrant.

“They are still pretty,” she said. “I will go back to just vinegar, as my mother-in-law used — she had it down to a science.”

Cooking time also varies. Erickson believes the key is to make sure the egg cools before removing the onion skins, so the natural pigment colors transfers.

“The designs are just so unique,” Erickson said. “It comes out kind of like a stained glass window.”

Hill favored the red peels, as they produce a richer color.

They said there are many different options in using onions as dye, including just boiling the eggs with the skins loose in the water. “I did try it, but it doesn’t turn out as pretty,” Hill said.

The eggs still are edible and don’t have an onion flavor.

Erickson will travel to her son’s home in Wisconsin for Easter. “He will be surprised, as he hasn’t done them in quite awhile, either,” she said.

Hill also may surprise some of her neighbors. Since the pandemic, the two have started sharing meals each Sunday with other residents on their block.

The duo plan to continue the tradition again next year.

“Although there are different foods to use for natural color — including beets, spinach, turmeric — I will keep with just the onion peels, as it is a family tradition,” Erickson said.

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