Friday, April 21

Τι Νοικοκύρης

The year I spent studying sandouri in Greece, I was invited by Clio H., a friend of my sister’s, to spend Easter with her family out in Kifissia, one of Athens’ poshest suburbs. I was thrilled not to be spending Easter alone, so I went out of my way to show my gratitude by bringing Clio’s mother Easter eggs, κουλουράκια (a special type of Greek Easter cookie), and a ricotta pie (Joe’s aunt’s recipe). When I showed up at their door laden with treats, she was amazed. When I told her I had dyed the Easter eggs using onion skins and red poppies that I had gathered from the slopes of the Acropolis, she was astounded, looked at me intently for a second, and then exclaimed, “Τι νοικοκύρης!” (Ti ni-ko-KY-ris) which means, “What a homemaker!”

All I could do was laugh. I guess the young Greek men in Mrs. H’s family didn’t go out of their way to dye Easter eggs and bake. I wanted to explain to her that I was gay and it was normal for a gay man to do such things, but I didn’t want to embarrass her. Instead I simply thanked her for inviting me. The truth is, I was really touched by her effusiveness.

That was the first time I dyed eggs using red onion skins. I still can’t believe that it worked, since I kind of winged it. I’ve done it every year since. The only year it didn’t work was the year I dyed the eggs at my parents’ house in Lynn. For some reason the dye didn’t take, and my mother had to throw in a tablet of the store-bought red dye she typically used. I was bummed because I had been bragging about how nice my eggs had turned out the previous year.

In case you were wondering, Greeks traditionally dye their Easter eggs red, no pastels. The red eggs are meant to symbolize Christ’s blood. Easter eggs, as everyone knows, are a pre-Christian fertility symbol. Thus, red Easter eggs are a wonderful example of the synchretism that is so common within the Christian tradition.

Tonight, it was touch and go for a while. For some reason the dye took a really long time to set. The first batch of eggs took forever to color. They came out splotchy too. And I broke a lot of eggs. I think this is the last year I’m going to use white eggs. They’re too damn delicate. I’ve known for a while that brown eggs dye just as nicely as white eggs, but I always end up buying white eggs anyway. No more.

In the end, this year’s eggs turned out quite nice, notwithstanding all the breakage and the initial stubbornness of the dye. I think that I probably didn’t use enough vinegar. I used only about a cup and you really need to add two cups. I’ll try to remember that next year. In total, I’ve got just under four dozen eggs. The prettiest ones will go out on the table. For me, that means the ones with the most uniform color, but Joe really likes the splotchy speckled ones, so I’ll include a few just for him.


Blogger Brad said...

Ok I am very curious now on the recipe for dying eggs in this manner. It does make a wonderful color... but what is the METHOD?

1:36 AM  
Blogger Michael The Shadow said...

Ok, well I have to say are utterly amazing man. You always post something that either informs, or fascinates me, or somehow makes me think just a bit.

Course now I'm really curious how do you dye the eggs? Is there a recipe? (cause ya know I gotta try it out now hehe)

1:42 AM  
Blogger kate m said...

Dean, you may have possibly outdone Martha Stewart this time! Try bringing the eggs to a very slow boil from very cold water with about a half cup of vinegar. That should prevent some cracking. It is a myth that white eggs are weaker than brown. I can't wait to crack an egg with you on Sunday.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Scott E D said...

How did I not realize you're from Lynn?

My sister and brother-in-Law are memebers of St. George's.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

here's how i do it:

i peel the skins from about 6 - 8 large red onions (i also raid the red onion bins at the supermarket for loose skins. i don't peel them from the onions unless they're already half falling off, cause that would be rude to the other shoppers).

then i fill a large pot with water so that the depth will be about 2" above the eggs. i bring the water to a boil (without the eggs) and then add the skins. i also throw in some rose petals, but i don't think they really add to the color.

once the skins are in, i let the whole thing simmer for about 15 minutes. then i pour the whole thing through a strainer to take out the skins, and the strained dye goes back into the kettle over a low heat so that it's constantly simmering. at that point i add a cup of white vinegar, though it might need more than that. let the strained dye simmer for another 15 minutes.

then the eggs go in, about a dozen at a time. i hard boil them in the dye. the first batch might take up to 30 minutes to color. after that, they tend to go more quickly. not sure why. i could probably let the dye steep for longer initially before putting the first batch in. also, the first batch tends to come out splotchy. this is always the case. i've never been able to figure out why.

i take them out once they've turned a deep amber/brick red. i place them in a bowl lined with a clean dish towel and let them cool. once they've cooled, i polish them with a clean dish towel soaked in olive oil. they'll look rather dull as they cool, but the polishing really brings out the color.

one final note: i typically make a back-up dye from beets, but for the past two years i haven't had to use it. the reason for this is that as the main onion dye simmers, especially if you've got a lot of eggs and they take a long time, the level in the pot continues to drop as the liquid slowly evaporates. the eggs won't dye properly if the eggs aren't completely covered, so it's really important to maintain the proper liquid level. however, too much liquid will dilute the dye too much. that's why it's important to use the proper amount of water from the beginning. don't overfill the pot, in other words. it's hard to estimate, however, and if the liquid drops as the dye simmers, rather than adding more water and risk diluting the color, i add the back-up beet dye.

to make it, take about 6 beets, cut them into quarters, and boil them in a small pot for about 30 minutes. strain them and let the dye simmer on very low heat until you need it. you can use that to supplement the onion dye in an emergency. i suppose you could also use a second pot of onion dye, but the reason i don't is that i don't want to end up with tons of red onions (since you only use the skins). of course, i usually throw the beets away after i've boiled them because i hate beets, but if you like them, you could eat them.

good luck!

11:18 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

Awesom. Ok now I am going to have to try this out within the week just to try it. I so Easter eggs every year even if I am by myself just because I like the tradition. I can see right now that from now on all my Easter eggs are going to be red just because the color on them with that method turns out looking so cool. Thanks Dean! Just one more example of why life is so great... you learn SOMETHING new everyday!

BTW- Kate touched on something that brought an idea to mind. You might consider sharing that story, recipe and a couple pictures with someone like Ophra. She would love to feature something like that I bet and that lady reaches MILLIONS!

12:15 PM  
Blogger The Persian said...

wow..using oninion skins? I want to try that sometime, too bad Easter is over with (for us).

3:56 PM  
Blogger castor said...

My Italian grandmother used also red onion scins for dying eggs to get them dark red , but spinach for green eggs and beetroot for pink one :-)
It seems to be an old Mediterranean custom!
Did you know,Dean, that in German slang the "balls" are called "Eier" = "eggs" and that the testicles of a bull are a delicacy? :-)

3:07 AM  
Blogger Will said...

You're a wonder, and a sweet one, too, to put the splotched eggs on the table because Joe likes them. I'm an old Romantic and I love it when men do things like that for each other because of love.

Many years ago I spent most of a week in Athens on business with a colleague of mine. We were searching out potential sites in Greece to hold our summer student travel/study program (we eventually found one on the Island of Spetses). We were invited to stay at a very nice private boarding school in Kiffisia. It was my very first trip to Greece, in late July, the grounds of the school were covered in lantana, it was 110 degrees and my sandals actually melted off my feet when the glue between the layers of leather in the soles dissolved against the scorching pavement. I had a great time. Thank you for bringing back those memories.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Tallguy said...

If you use the yellow skins, you get versions of gold. Beets never really worked well for me. You could also stick on leaves, or tie string around the eggs -- that creates a pattern when you dye them.

My aunt always made primary-coloured eggs, but they had to have hot wax dropped on them, before dyeing, to create Mary's tears. I always liked to see what colour the egg was inside! hahaha My mother uses the hot wax to write all the intricate designs in many colurs -- these are not for breaking!

Of course, in our Eastern Orthodox tradition, following the Old Calendar, Easter is this weekend. Still good to have some old traditions; more important as we get older, I find. Xpuctoc Bockprec!

6:39 PM  

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