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Happy Easter everybody. On Wednesday I spent most of my time making chocolate eggs, so today I’ve decided to have a go at an older tradition of Easter eggs: pace eggs. These might not be food themselves, but in using hard boiled eggs decorated in dyes made from vegetables, these Northern decorated eggs draw on a lot of food ingredients.

Onion eggIn the collection at our museum there are a number of typical pace eggs from the late 19th and early 20th century and the vast majority of them are dyed by wrapping onion skins around the egg and then boiling it so that the onion creates a marbled pattern on the egg shell. It was always popular because onions were widely available and the skins were just a waste product anyway.

Trying to replicate this method, I made the egg on the left here by tying the skins of a brown onion to the egg with an elastic band and then adding it to a pan of boiling water with more onion skins and a little vinegar to fix the dye to the egg. After about an hour, this was the result. With brown onions having given this reddish-orange shade, I attempted the same with a red onion skin and ended with a darker, less red brown.

Pace EggFurther designs were given to eggs by masking off areas with wax before dying the hard boiled egg in a cold dye mix and then taking the wax off. Attempting this, however, proved hard to get any pattern more than random streaks and blobs. The best original eggs in the museum’s collection, however, have the dyed colour scratched off again with the point of a needle to create lined patterns.

I decided to have a go at using this method, so I made a dye from the skins of a few brown onions, boiled in water with a couple of spoonfuls of vinegar and then soaked the boiled eggs overnight in the cold dye mix to give them a consistent red-brown colour. Then I was able to scratch shapes and patterns into the eggs, which created a more pleasing design than the simple marbled eggs.

Minster EggOnion skins aren’t the only vegetable dye used to make pace eggs, though, so I decided to try some others. While the likes of beetroot and spinach mostly ended up with more shades of brown, I achieved a lot more success with a dye made of chopped red cabbage. Although the water drained the purple colour from the cabbage, it did not result in a purple egg. Instead, eggs dyed in this mixture turned shades of turquoise and blue.

This egg gave a good consistent blue-green colour, so I decided to scratch a picture into it rather than a pattern, giving this York Minster egg. Next Easter I’ll try and top it.

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