"Do you like my red eggs? I made them as we do in the Ukraine," said Tatiana, my late mother's companion, last year. Her eggs were not really red, though, but an attractive dark reddish brown decorated with lighter colored leaves of various shapes. "I cooked them in onion skins," Tatiana explained.
Last year, for the first time I can remember, my mother was in no condition even to ask her companions to dye the Easter eggs bright red as she liked them, and as is the custom in Greece. She used to have a special old aluminum pot that was permanently stained from this horrible and surely toxic red dye. I do try to keep the traditions, but I refused to use such coloring in my kitchen, so my mother always dyed a few eggs and brought them with her when she came to Kea for Easter. By a strange coincidence, it was my mother's last companion who made me start coloring Easter eggs, teaching me this wonderful version of what I knew as huevos haminados.
Sephardic Jews who lived in Salonika, and all around the Mediterranean, used to prepare huevos haminados (baked eggs) on Fridays to serve on the Sabbath. Originally, these eggs were placed in a covered clay pot filled with onion skins and water and baked in a communal oven. Later, the eggs were simmered for hours on top of the stove. The onion skins darken the white eggshells and give the eggs a distinctive flavor. Tatiana's Easter eggs were, in fact, decorated huevos haminados. Differently shaped leaves are secured on each egg with a piece of nylon stocking, and the eggs are cooked for hours and then left overnight to cool in the onion broth.
This year we have too many wonderful eggs because we have been taking care of our neighbors' chickens while they are away for a month, so I decided to follow Tatiana's instructions. I tried also to use other natural colorings, with little success. The onion-dyed ones were by far the best. The carefully chosen white eggs I boiled for hours together with a bunch of beets from our garden came out white, not even pink. The eggs I boiled with red cabbage came out a quite unstable dirty blue. Not bad, but surely not spectacular. Unfortunately I didn't have enough turmeric to try to make yellow eggs, but since we mostly get dark eggs from the neighbors' hens I doubt I could have managed to make them a nice yellow. I promise to try next year, though.
And remember that the best thing about those very attractive huevos haminados—the onion-skin eggs—is that they are delicious, and taste even better if you pickle them.