dyeing eggs

Gathering for the vernal equinox, a rite in celebration of spring, of the growing light and all the beautiful food that comes with it – this is what Gather Victoria set about to do. I laid a table in the midst of this extraordinary event, covered in foods that we used to dye our eggs. Oh, I adore the history of colour, of pigment, the natural sources and the culture that came along with them. Would you like to dye eggs with plant-life? Let me show you our experiments.

Dotted about on the table are bowls of sea salt and bottles of vinegar. We used a pinch and a splash of these as our mordants, to fix a colour, deepen it.

beet-table

In fabric dyeing these were often malodorous, and dyeworks would be found in their own district or well away from town.

beet-dye

Beetroot, for a gentle pink. Chop more beets than you think into as little water as you can – just enough to cover your eggs. With only a brief time at the event, we could get a pale pink on white eggs, but fill a jar with the strained dye, leave an egg immersed overnight, and you might deepen its colour.

cabbage-dye

Blue, blue from the outer leaves of cabbage! In England we dyed eggs cabbage blue, but our cabbage was grown on the biodynamic farm near our cottage. It was certainly not driven in a truck for thousands of miles, nor stripped of its colour-rich outer leaves by middlemen all the way to the supermarket, as I fear the cabbages I could lay my hands on had been. Suffice to say, our blues were of the sad, pale kind. Never mind – you will have more time, and can leave the eggs submerged. Brown eggs and white have a different effect, try both if you can. In fact, the cabbage is related to woad! So perhaps it is apt that we got our richest blue in the south of England, in keeping with the history of naked Celts painted with woad blue to frighten Romans back to the mainland. The Romans called indigo indicum, from the Greek, indikon; India was the source of indigo dyeing from Greco-Roman times.

eggs-table

Carrot tops give a pale chartreuse to the cheesecloth sachets I use to contain the vegetation, but the eggs themselves take a long, long time. I prefer to overdye cabbage blue with a touch of turmeric, for a fine green. Historically the woad of England or India’s indigo blues were overdyed with dyer’s broom for Kendal green, Lincoln green – think Robin Hood.

turmeric-dye

If green is the most difficult colour to achieve from plant-dyes, yellow is the easiest. Try oregon grape, or any number of wild greens. Here we used, no, not dyer’s broom, but turmeric. This cloth turned rich gold, but do not trust turmeric to fix in wool or cloth. You will wear the colour with the cloth. I captured the spice in a cloth, but in my own experiments the colour was more effective when the dusty spice stuck to the eggs and was gently rubbed off.

paprika-dye

Then, for a bright orange, paprika. We call the colour orange now, these last two hundred years, yet orange the fruit coined orange the colour, not the reverse. Previously we had only red as a descriptive, and so we have robin red breast and red heads.

dyed-eggs

For a deep red, you’ll want brown eggs, plenty of time, and surprisingly, plenty of papery yellow onion skins. Leave them to boil on and on and you may achieve quite an orthodox blood red, in keeping with the fertility rites of the season. Until 1869 and the age of synthetics, Madder red dyed the militia’s coats in France and Holland and the hunting pinks in Britain. Try your hand at growing madder for its colourful root, if you like! Murex snails along the Mediterranean yielded a drop each of an intense dye, some of which became Phoenician Red. You may know of the purple dyes from these snails, precious royal or Tyrian purple, vastly expensive, never to fade, likely developed by the Minoans of East Crete. Italian red silk was dyed with kermes, from the unlaid eggs of an insect, and across eastern Europe, the cochineal gave red. It was the brilliant, nothing-that-is-not-useful-or-beautiful William Morris who reviled synthetics and aniline dyes, and with the Arts and Crafts movement turned back to the traditions of using indigo and madder for dyeing excellent woven and printed fabrics. I believe we are continuing the tradition on a grassroots scale.

onion-spice-table

Red onion gave us yellow in its first moments, deepening to a rich chestnut over time. Beautiful. I liked the currants that gave a pale brown, and blueberry’s warm blue, but these are precious foods and mostly I prefer to eat them myself. What do you think? Will you experiment with colour this Easter?

I must tell you, this spring, eggs are of particular fascination to me, for in April we’ll receive a dozen heritage hatching eggs, and in May we plan to build a coop and run that I’ve designed for them! Watch for more about keeping chickens very soon – get the postcards to stay in the loop.

Thank you to Gather, Nourish Café and all the wonderful people I met at the event, I loved it.

pickling cucumbers

Something of a curse has hung over my pickling ambitions. Each time I had the luck of finding pickling cucumbers in late summer – great joy! Delight! A week later, those cucumbers would remain, decidedly unpreserved, aging unpleasantly in the fridge, my life having swamped us with some unforeseen and dramatic circumstance. Once more this summer, old fashioned fainting episodes, emergency journeys! On the second pickling attempt I steeled myself for calamities. Despite threatening chaos, we pickled! Now, I’m ever so pleased to show you how easy it is to pickle, if you’re as nervous (me) and excited (all the neighbourhood children) as we were. What’s more, I’ve the fresh-pack dill cucumber pickle recipe we used, here, so generously, from Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. Thanks, my friend!

ingredients-s.jpg

You will need:

  • 6 pounds pickling cucumbers
  • ¾ cup pickling salt (divided)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • Garlic cloves, peeled
  • Dill seed
  • Fresh dill heads (if unavailable use dried dill)
  • Black peppercorns

blossom-cut cucumbers

The children on the lake gathered in our kitchen one late summer evening, and took turns to prepare the cucumbers for an overnight brine.

Rinse the cucumbers in cold water. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush to loosen any hidden soil. Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber (if you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, just take a thin slice off of each end).

salted cucumbers

Place the cucumbers in a nonreactive glass or ceramic bowl, add ½ cup pickling salt, cover with water, place a plate or towel over the top, and set in a cool place or the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours.

brined cucumbers

In the morning, all the children returned for a bit of dill pickling, peeling garlic and measuring vinegar.

Drain off the brine.

rinsed cucumbers

Rinse the cucumbers thoroughly to remove salt residue. Set aside.

Sterilize 8 pint mason jars, lids and screw rings.

In a medium stainless-steel pan, combine vinegar, 3 ½ cups water, and ¼ cup pickling salt. Bring the brine to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

(The taller children and I did the very hot bits.)

spiced pickle

Many (little) hands make light work.

Into each sterilized jar, place 1 garlic clove, ½ teaspoon dill seed, 1 dill head or ½ teaspoon dried dill, and 8 black peppercorns.

packed pickles

Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.

pickled pickles

Oh, we all enjoyed making these, how nice to have a cupboard full of dill pickles. With such a lovely experience of making fresh-pack pickles, now we must investigate making our own fermented pickles! And pickling throughout the year, beets, squash, anything you like. Thanks for the introduction, Ashley. You might like to check out her tried & true, here.

potter’s case

There’s a wonderful pottery studio deep in the highlands, down a winding road that leads through the woods. I’ve begun throwing pots on a wheel there every week. Clustering round the wood stove, sharing cups of tea with some lovely potters, is very good too. I’ve so craved this work since I studied in England. I want it to be a permanent, regular practice. So, I pulled out my beloved old travel case, battered and stained from years of art materials at school, and fixed it up as a pottery toolbox for my devotions to clay.

potter's case

Clay tools are such appealing things, and a vintage suitcase is just the thing to organise them. There’s something about claiming a spot for tools and materials that is so affirming of any endeavour. The writing desk makes the writer, and so on. I think so. Like hanging a musical instrument on the wall, it is a declaration of commitment.

potter's case

I find that I am better at keeping a thing tidy, and using it often, if I think it is beautiful. With a bit of leftover milk paint, I stained the fabric lining from a loud red to a quiet grey. No doubt it will all be pleasingly clay-spattered soon enough. The make-up mirror puts me in mind of train journeys and face powder. Perfect for checking one’s reflection after a muddy day on the wheel.

potter's case

I’ve tucked my plaster sprigs and stamps into a pocket of the new potter’s case, and a linen apron, given to me by a lovely English potter, folds neatly on top.

potter's case

Quite important to leave space for tea, and for tins filled with snacks! Look out for images of my ceramic work soon, here, on instagram and other friendly places – I’ll be stocking my own, new studio shop.

fishing lessons

On the lake we are learning to fish. My young cousin taught the girls patiently, and reminded me of knowledge I had years ago, fishing with grandfathers and uncles, on rivers and oceans, fishing for goldeye, rock cod, salmon. Our Finnish heritage is fine-tuned to forests and lakes, you can see us all settle in the way you do when you get home.

fishing-lessons05s.jpg

This lake is tiny and perfectly formed. It was named Teanook Lake by Emily Carr herself, who rode in on her buggy to paint it nearly a century ago. Can you picture her here? With a flask of tea, I think. I’ve been photographing its beauty daily, in all its Monet-like changes, and could go on for a lifetime. My tall girl wants a paintbox to continue the tradition.

fishing lessons

Getting the hang of angling isn’t so hard – and then, oh, what a pleasing game. The arc and whistle, the bobbing movement, the timing, the winding and watching. The tension of the line! Catching it with your finger, holding til you let go at just the right moment – I tell you, the knitters in my history met the fisherfolk, and they nodded in appreciation. Any sort of practice that requires silence, stillness, observation, a bit of skill, I love it. If this was your only opportunity for meditation, it would be enough.

fishing lessons

My tall girl got it quickly and landed a small fish on her first go – it was exuberantly celebrated and promptly sent back. In less than a moment the children fell in love with fishing on the lake, and they want their own tackle, their own rods.

fishing lessons

How I’ve longed to return to fishing! It took me a few tries to remember how, it’s been easily 30 years since my grandfather took me out for my own fishing lessons on Winnipeg river. We’d stay in a spot for a matter of minutes; if there weren’t any bites we’d move on to another. My father would nap, hat over the eyes. Once, as a small girl, I caught eighteen goldeye in a row. My little Finnish grandmother would race up the steps to the old family cottage and down to where the fish were cleaned and smoked. I can recall the flavour like it was last night’s dinner, and see my grandfather eating fish soup at the red gingham-covered table. I didn’t know then how lucky I was.

Oh, we’d race down the dock and jump into that river after a sauna as I’d love to jump into this lake – without a sauna it’s still too cold for wild swimming, this rainy late May.

fishing lessons

I bet all the old folks would be deeply pleased to see the next generation of cousins out on the dock together, still fishing. It pleases me ever so much.

Do you love learning old-time skills too? You might like to see the the old school movies. Don’t miss my next projects, get the postcards!

coffee mill

Using my grandmother’s coffee mill is one of those beautiful, deeply satisfying physical experiences that grounds me in a long history. You love useful, well-made, elegant objects with their own stories too, I think. Being thoroughly doused in high technology on a daily level, I’m searching for more of the slower, sweeter, and often more material experiences of an earlier time. Integrating digital and analogue – emphasising really old experiences that engage my hands, my body, my senses, makes my life feel richer, more connected.

parker coffee mill.jpg

Daily use of an object that my beloved grandmother used, adds a dimension of meaning to my time that more of our belongings ought to possess. Her mill is all wood and metal, and requires nothing but an embrace and a firm turn of a handle. Can you imagine buying a machine to grind your coffee, made like this, now? There is a philosophy in its construction that feels very different from this age.

mills

The sound of coffee beans in the mechanism is intensely tangible. Without deafening electric motors, the crunching, crushing, toasted crackling sound is profound. It gets into my brain like a fine melody. Add the heady scent of the beans, and the act of preparing coffee becomes a ritual of exquisite anticipation.

milled coffee

Speed isn’t required, in this ritual. If anything, grinding a handful of beans is over too quickly. Everyone would have a go at milling, and opening the drawer to find a grind that is astonishingly perfect. Since 1923, this little mill has been turning, and having outlived my dear grandmother, I wonder if it will outlive all of us, too.

coffee mills

(You can still find these mills, and you can even get hold of vintage ads for the things, if you admire the typography and illustration, as I do.)

I made a short movie of the old coffee mill, and my sweetheart set it to music. I find it so sweet, I hope you like it too. My heart swells (and my coffee habit redoubles) when I hear him grinding beans to share a pot with me, and come in to see him hugging that mill as my grandfather might have, milling for my grandmother.

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p>(A fact. My father has another mill their family used for coffee. This one milled grains, instead, for an old fashioned, long-cooking porridge, kept warm in the feather coverlet. I remember eating it as a child, served to all the little cousins in the mornings with her homemade wild-picked blackberry jam and a splash of milk, in shallow, wide bowls. I wish I had the recipe.)

little miller

Now, if you’ve been following closely for a while, you might recall an antique grinder I acquired at a village shop near the cottage we once lived in. I have great affection for the mill, and for cooking with my family in that old kitchen, so I made a little something with some images I came across the other day.

Simple pleasures.

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p>(If you’re fond of short appleturnover movies like the little miller, you might like to nose around the old schoolhouse. Along the lefthand side of the page, you’ll find it.)