My first hint that plants could be used as dyestuff can be traced back to growing up with family Easter traditions. Following my mother’s Polish roots, each year we would prepare a basket filled with babka, a little glass filled with butter, another with horseradish, kiełbasa and of course decorated, coloured eggs. We’d sit around the kitchen table with the hot wax of a burning candle, improvised drawing tools crafted from bobby pins to create motifs and bowls of coloured liquids made from onion skins and beet juice.
On Easter Sunday, the Easter bunny always visited our house, leaving a trail of eggs leading to the kitchen where we’d find a gift. I remember following that trail one year to find a cheerful clear dome shaped umbrella printed with an encircling row of yellow tulips and a hooked yellow handle. It became my prized umbrella that still brings a smile to my mind when I think of it.
Easter was always a joyous time. It was the end of lent and as kids that meant chocolate and cakes. After our morning breakfast feast of goods from the blessed basket, on warm years, we would spend the afternoon sitting around the garden by the cherry trees and spring bulbs, soaking up the first rays of the spring sun.
Sisters and cousins have since moved to different countries and provinces but when we get a chance we still gather around these traditions together or in our own ways.
My newest “tulip” print is an homage to those memories. The coloured eggs, spring flowers in the garden, my sweet tulip umbrella and joyful times with family.
I still love decorating and colouring eggs. I’ve expanded on my techniques and usually draw with a thin paint brush dipped in hot beeswax then dye the eggs with a variety of things.
Here are a few suggestion of things you can cook up for lovely colours:
blueberries, then squeeze out the juice
berry berry tea
Nuances can be achieved by dipping the eggs in the different bowls of colour. Sometimes I’ll dye an egg first then apply the wax, dye it again, then apply another design, dye the egg again … it’s like batik on an egg.
Babka, a heartwarming sweetbread is an Easter staple always found on our table. My mom baked some to give me in advance and my aunt shared my babcia’s recipe to bake for celebrations yet to come.
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups warm milk
1 heaping tablespoon yeast
Mix ingredients together and let stand about 3 hours in a warm place until yeast beings to activate and dough gets bubbly.
Beat together 4 egg yolks and 1 white
Add 2/3 cup of sugar and beat again until sugar is dissolved
Add ½ cup of milk. Add a teaspoon of lemon or orange rind and 1 teaspoon salt
Add above mixture to dough. Add enough flour to give the dough substance and is thick enough to knead. When you are kneading, if you find the dough still too loose and sticky, add more flour
Knead for about 3-5 minutes. Add about 3 big tablespoons of melted butter and ¾ cup of white or sultana raisins. Knead until the dough comes free from your hands. Let dough sit covered in a warm place until it doubles in bulk. Roll the dough onto a floured board. Divide into greased pans. (should make 2 large or 3 smaller loaves). Again let sit in a warm place until the dough rises above the top of the pan. Brush the top with slightly beaten egg white to give the top a shine. Bake at 350 degrees about half an hour or until the top is brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when you tap on the top.
Note: To speed up the rising time, eliminate Step One, mix all the ingredients together from Step One and Step Two and continue with Step Three. The bread may be a little more dense but should be fine.