Serbian Easter: Naturally Colored Eggs

Naturally Colored Easter Eggs from bibberche.com

The days approaching Easter were filled with excitement and anticipation for us while we were growing up in Yugoslavia. As soon as we noticed the envelopes of different dyes and cartons of eggs waiting in the pantry, we became antsy, barely able to wait for “Veliki Cetvrtak” or Big Thursday, to join in the ritual of coloring Easter eggs. The galley kitchen in our old house was too narrow to accommodate Mother’s slender figure joined by Njanja’s much more corpulent presence. When the three of us ran around, weaving through skirts and legs, the small space became like an anthill, teeming with small creatures.

Mother would empty an envelope in the water, add a tablespoon of vinegar to help set the color, and heat it until it boiled. She would place the eggs one by one carefully into the bubbling liquid, and let them move around and absorb the color for fifteen or twenty minutes. The moment when the eggs were to emerge from the murky swirls was greeted by wide open eyes. Upon resting our glances on a perfectly colored oval resting in the spoon glistening in Carmine Red, Prussian Green, Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Violet, or Cobalt Blue, the smiles of relief would appear, and the egg would be placed gingerly onto a plate to cool off.

Easter 2005

Easter egg and Anya, nine years ago.

We breathed in the astringent smell of vinegar waiting eagerly for our cue to affix the clingy decorative labels depicting adorable chickens and cute bunnies onto the eggs. After straightening the folds of the filmy material, making it become one with the surface, Mother would rub the eggs with bacon, making them shiny and beautiful, resplendent in their primary colors.

The first red egg was sequestered into the credenza to await the next year’s Big Thursday, replacing the old one that sat triumphantly on the shelf for a year. This egg was called “Cuvarkuca”, its purpose: to take care of the house and its inhabitants and protect them from the evil spirits. They say that this first red egg never rots, but I was never brave enough to test this hypothesis.

At the conclusion of this endeavor, there were baskets of colorful eggs adorning every flat surface of the house. We would approach them surreptitiously and caress their smooth surfaces, trying to pick the sturdiest specimens for the upcoming egg battle on Sunday morning. We called forth images of Father choosing a ripe watermelon, thumping and probing, and shook the eggs, knocked on them, and rolled them around. We pulled the ones we decorated on top, and marked the possible winners with a marker. Every day the position of the eggs in the baskets changed, as we attempted to be sly and sneaky, looking forward to the challenge.

Easter 2005

Nine years ago, Zoe and her egg.

Veliki Petak (Great Friday, as opposed to Good Friday) was one of the few days during the course of the year that we observed the Eastern Orthodox Lent rules: no red meat, no dairy, no eggs. I am convinced that I mastered the art of delayed gratification ogling those beautiful eggs for three days, without being able to get to them.

Our Lenten dinner was not a humble affair. There was always a lot of pan-fried fish (trout or fresh-water bass), accompanied by crusty bread,  potato salad with red onions and a vinaigrette, baked Serbian beans, black radish relish, and several desserts, including baklava. But those forbidden eggs taunting us with their vibrant splendor were the center of our attention.

The Easter Sunday table was covered with a crisp, white, starched tablecloth that awaited us early in the morning when we sauntered in with our freshly scrubbed faces and squeaky-clean teeth. We wore our best clothes that Mother picked the night before and laid for us on the living room couch. We would solemnly sit at the table, appraising its offerings:  magenta slivers of fresh radishes, crisp spears of green onions, white cubes of farmers’ cheese, a bowl of pale yellow kajmak, a platter exhibiting one of Mother’s baking masterpieces, and in the center: the basket of eggs, flanked by a wooden salt and pepper dispenser.

We would wait patiently while the adults took their places at the table, ready to grab the egg we had chosen days ago to be the contender. When everybody’s cups were filled with milk or yogurt, the egg battle could commence. The only rule that was imposed was the proper positioning of the egg in the hand. We went around, knocking egg against egg, sharper side to sharper side, obtuse to obtuse, until one egg was the absolute winner, having at least one of the sides intact. The other eggs became pure fodder for the masses, dunked in salt and eaten together with crunchy scallions. The winner went back to the basket, its owner jealously guarding it during any upcoming meal. These battles were not to be taken frivolously and everybody coveted the winning egg. But we all enjoyed the rest of the Easter breakfast, laughing, arguing the merits of each carefully chosen egg, and enjoying the wonderful food greeting us on the table.

I was not raised in a religious household, and neither are my girls. But when Easter approaches, their eyes become sparkly, and they start talking eggs. I indulge them and offer the cups of food coloring diluted in hot water. They draw with crayons before they color the eggs. They put sprinkles and rhinestones on eggs, they write messages and names, they try their best in topping the previous year’s lovelies.

Easter Eggs from bibberche.com

I do not buy the envelopes of powder dye, even though I still have dreams of those eggs posing on the dining room table. I collect onion skins and color my eggs naturally, decorating them with a leaf, a petal, a frond. It is  a method widely used in Serbia, and I just love the hues that I get from different exposure times and differently colored eggs.

I carefully lay the basket of colored eggs on my Easter Sunday table, accompanied by magenta-hued radishes, crispy scallions, and freshly baked bread. The girls come out of their room scrubbed and clean, wearing their best clothes. Looking at their eyes darting around, appraising the situation, picking the best egg for the battle, I try to stifle a smile. I know for certain that they are going to pick the eggs they decorated, thinking they just might win this time!

ONION SKIN COLORED EGGS

Ingredients:

  • 2 dozen eggs (buy them several days in advance and let them rest in the fridge)
  • Onion skins (yellow onions and red onions are the best) – I start collecting mine a couple of months before
  • 1-2 Tbsp vinegar
  • leaves, fronds, petals – anything you think might make a good impression on the egg
  • old stockings
  • twist ties or rubber bands

Directions:

Wet a spot on the egg and affix the leaf, a petal, or a frond onto the egg. Wrap tightly in the stocking and twist off with a twist tie or a rubber band.

Fill a big Dutch oven or a stainless steal pot with onion skins, add water, and nestle the wrapped eggs inside. Heat until boiling, and then turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for twenty to thirty minutes (depending on the desired shade, the eggs can simmer for up to one hour.) Pull the eggs out and allow to cool. Cut the wrapping around the eggs and remove the greenery. Rub the eggs with a piece of bacon to seal the pores.

VARIATIONS:

I have colored my eggs successfully using turmeric and coffee. I love all the different hues I get with the method. I also use garlic skins to achieve marble effect, rubber bands, the adhesive “dots” that are left after punching holes in paper, and textured plastic bags that hold my garlic bulbs or potatoes.

Naturally Colored Easter Eggs from bibberche.com

Eggs colored with coffee, turmeric, and onion skins

34 Responses to Serbian Easter: Naturally Colored Eggs

  1. Cher says:

    Beautiful eggs & what a neat technique.
    And was the title a nod to “Silence of the Lambs”? If so, I am glad I am not the only person out there who has quotes from that movie running through her head.

  2. These look amazing! I love the detail!

  3. Jelena says:

    Tradicija farbanja prirodnim bojama se polako vraća kod nas, a vidim i u svetu. Ljuske od luka kupujemo na pijaci i meni su to najlepša jaja. Pošto se ona farbaju dugo (neko ih čak farba celu noć) mogu se jesti mesecima. Nekada su se slala vojnicima koji su bili u ratu ili zatvorenicima, da im dugo traju.
    Uvek se radujem toj tradiciji i uvekpošaljem supruga da mi dokupi jošđ jedan karton (kao i ove godine).

  4. These are the most elegant eggs. Just wondeful natural dyes! I am tempted to make them too. I saw a coffee crackled eggs for brunch in one magazine was very pretty design. Was so nice to hear about your family tradition growing up and even though you are not super religious, I know you appreciate tradition and I wish you and your family a Happy Easter!!

  5. Lisa says:

    Those eggs are absolutely beautiful, I wish I could remember how to blow out an egg, since I’d love to make these, shellack and keep them.

  6. Anna says:

    wow, what gorgeous eggs. it’s really cool to hear about traditional methods of egg dying too, i have always wanted to branch out and be more creative but haven’t known how to get beyond the PAS color kits you get at the store! gorgeous!

    http://www.icyviolets.com

  7. Maria says:

    @ Lisa –to blow out your eggs, gently pierce both ends of your egg with a sewing needle, As you make one of the holes a little bigger, use th needle to break the yolk inside. It is much more likely that you will get all the egg out if you break that yolk.

    In regards to natual dyes, red cabbage and beets also make beautiful colors… The red cabbage actually makes a robin’s egg blue.

  8. rebecca says:

    wow love the tradition and they look stunning

    Happy Easter hugs Rebecca

  9. Jean says:

    Lana, these are marvelous! Who needs (or would want food coloring) when you can create these elegant Easter eggs naturally. Wow.

    Thanks for sharing your Easter traditions. Happy Easter to you and your family. :-)

  10. Danni says:

    What gorgeous eggs (and cute photos!) I’m a fellow Camp Blogaway camper. I figured I’d calm my nerves by saying hello to everyone online before this weekend, though it just seems to be getting me more excited (hence the 1:30am comment!) I’m looking forward to meeting you :)

    ~Danni with LambAround

  11. Maureen says:

    oh my goodness these are so beautiful. I wish I’d seen it before Easter.. bugger about that. I’ll remember for next year. Very clever indeed.

  12. What wonderful memories and those eggs are absolutely gorgeous! I am bookmarking this post for next year.

    I’m looking forward to meet you at Camp Blogaway.

  13. Mairi@Toast says:

    Lana – these are just gorgeous, that natural colours & designs just stunning! What a beautiful tradition, ours was to roll the eggs down a hill & to see who survived the best.

  14. This was such a lovely post full of really wonderful memories! And I do love your coloured eggs, they are absolutely beautiful. What a great way to colour them too with the onion skins – much more natural! Thank you for linking to Feed Me Tweet Me Follow me Home. Hope you will join in again this week – the linky is up now!

  15. Lana says:

    @Cher, no, you are not the only one! Even our daughters go around quoting the movie:)

    @Chunklet, thanks:)

    @Jelena, svake godine farbam sve više i više ovih prirodnih jaja, stvarno su najlepša:)

    @Shulie, thanks! I am always looking for new and different ways to color my eggs – love looking at them so nice and colorful, especially when they are dyed naturally:)

    @Lisa, I have never tried to blow out an egg, but I keep promising myself that I would learn. It would be nice to keep some really beautiful ones.

    @Anna, the more I learn about natural coloring, the more ways I find:) It’s amazing what people can use to great effects.

    @Maria, thanks for the lesson:) I have to try it between now and next spring, just to practice. I am looking forward to trying your coloring suggestions.

    @Rebecca, thanks! Have a great trip home!

    @Jean, thanks so much:) I am too late to wish you the same:(

    @Danni, thanks for stopping by! Nice to meet you! Looking forward to seeing you at Camp!

    @Maureen, I’ll try to remind you before next Easter:)

    @Dara, thanks:) They are beautiful and easy to make! Cannot wait to meet you IRL!

    @Mairi, isn’t it funny to know that there are so many different traditions around Easter, even though there are almost always eggs involved? We would have loved rolling the eggs downhill:)

    @April, thanks:) They are traditionally colored in onion skins, but it doesn’t hurt to widen the spectre:) And I’ll try to link every time!

  16. Susan says:

    Slavs have such a special way with egg decoration. Yours are extraordinary in their natural colors and designs. Though it be late for my comment, it isn’t late for my action. I have a dozen hard boiled eggs in the fridge which I never got the chance to color. When my work load lets up, I’m going to try your method and shoot the results for *next* year. Thanks for sharing, Lana!

  17. Jamie says:

    These are such beautiful eggs! I never celebrated Easter or Christmas but I grabbed any chance I could to either decorate a tree or decorate eggs! It is like magic! I love your stories!

  18. SO very lovely! I’m inspired! Happy Easter to you & your family!

  19. Another one of your lovely posts, Lana – I love that you share these traditions wonderful traditions with us. Your eggs are absolutely beautiful. Easter eggs were definitely always of the chocolate variety in our household, but on Easter Sunday my Dad did always get up and boil up some eggs with onion skins for my brother and I.

  20. These are beautiful and it’s so cool to know there are no chemicals or purchased bits – just onion skins. Happy Easter to you and the girls.

    • Svetlana says:

      Thanks, Maureen:) I just love all the different shades I get with the onion skins – if only I could get my hands on some cool various-colored eggs from real chickens, I’d be in heaven!

  21. These are absolutely lovely! Just tweeted and pinned. Happy Easter to you and your family, Lana!

  22. tamara herman says:

    Ja sam kuvala jaja satima u vodi, ulju, kuku, sa, biber, caj, kafa sa Passover, Pesah. Mnogo dobra.
    Posalji mi na fb message broj tvog mobilnog pa cu ti poslati sliku. Srecan uskrs tebi devojcicama.

  23. Zeljka says:

    Great looking eggs and great memories!!! Love it!

  24. […] Naturally Colored Eggs from Bibberche […]

  25. Christina says:

    Just beautiful, Lana!!

  26. I love the natural coloring Lana. Happy Easter to you and yours. We had to postpone the family seder this year because of travel schedules so guess what we’re doing on Easter Sunday? At least it involves eggs as well.

    • Svetlana says:

      Beth, I hope you had a great time traveling! I think holidays are meant to be be celebrated with family, no matter where (and sometimes even no matter when:)

  27. sippitysup says:

    You eggs and your memories are so beautiful. You actually changed my feelings about Easter in general. My memories are far more complicated. Our eggs, just as beautiful however. GREG

  28. nema ljepse obojenih jaja od jaja u lukovici i kao sara naravno nabere se oko kuce ili zgrade trava sa zanimljivim oblicima ili listice sa drveta i tako se sara jaje od pamtivijeka u mojoj kuci

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