Gather the kids. It’s time for some Easter fun with beets, cabbage and onions.
Those vegetables can provide natural dyes for eggs used in holiday celebrations this weekend. The Gemperle family, owner of a major egg company in Turlock, takes part in the tradition.
Last week, Kristi Gemperle piled ingredients on a kitchen counter and showed The Bee how it’s done: Simmer each vegetable in water long enough to yield its rich hue – beets for red, purple cabbage for blue, turmeric for yellow, and a few others. Then soak hard-boiled eggs until they take on the desired depth of color.
“I think everyone wants to get back to nature and do things naturally,” Gemperle said. “And it’s fun. You chop up your cabbage and see what color comes out of it.”
She is the daughter-in-law of the late Ernie Gemperle, who started Gemperle Farms in 1950. The Lander Avenue operation, one of California’s largest, sells eggs under various labels. Family members also are major donors to arts, education and other causes in and near Turlock.
For many families at Easter, coloring eggs means dipping them in synthetic dyes from a box. The natural colors harken back to European traditions, including the Switzerland of Ernie Gemperle’s birth.
Kristi and her husband, Mike, share the custom with daughters Sophia, 16; Eva, 15; Grace, 14; and Audrey, 10.
Most of the vegetables used in the dyes are cheap and easily found, including cabbage, beets, and red or yellow onions. Raw tumeric can be found in some stores, but powder from a jar works, too. Eggs also can be colored with loose black or Earl Grey tea.
The intensity of the color depends on how long the process goes.
“The more you boil things down, the more you soak, the deeper the colors,” Gemperle said. She added that a shorter time results in the pastel hues that some people prefer.
The family embellishes the eggs with leaves, blossoms and other natural materials, held on by cheesecloth while soaking in the dyes.
The Bee learned about the family tradition in a news release from Gemperle Farms last month. President Steve Gemperle, another son of the founder, talked fondly of it:
“We have keen memories of our dad bringing home fresh eggs from the ranch and our mother boiling the onion skins, plopping the egg in the solution and eagerly waiting for the color to emerge. I could not wait to remove the cheesecloth and see the secret image inside.”
This is not the first time The Bee has featured prominent people from Turlock who dye Easter eggs the natural way. A 2003 story described how it’s done by Michael Chiarello, a cooking show host, author and restaurateur.
“I still dye all my Easter eggs naturally,” he said. “Instead of those ubiquitous bright, pastel colors you buy in stores, these eggs turn out in soft, subtle hues.”
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.