Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Prickly Pear PINK

Cynthia is right: A good hobby can fix anything. I don't need to pick up a new hobby, I just need to re-pick-up an old one. Enter natural dyeing! Inspired by the prickly pear fruit I picked up this afternoon from the ground underneath our cacti, I just read "harvesting color" by Rebecca Burgess. Okay, I read the main text and only skimmed the recipes that interested me right now. Out of all the natural dye books I have--and trust me I have more than a few--this was the only one that used prickly pear fruit. Interestingly, the recipe calls for fermenting the fruit for a week or so and then soaking the fiber in the fermented mash for another week to ten days. Okay I can do all that, but the color she got is nothing I would spend 2-3 weeks on. She says you can get a pinkish tan. The photo at left is from the book listing on Amazon. It looks more yellow/gold to me, and is still not what I was hoping for.

Of course one can't discount the wonders found on the Internet so I also looked up dyeing with prickly pear fruit there and the first hit was an incredible scientific paper "Eco-friendly and protective natural dye from red prickly pear (Opuntia Lasiacantha Pfeiffer) plant" from the Journal of Saudi Chemical Society.

Though waaaay over my head in detail, I was able to understand the summary of the results just fine. They tested for different mordants, ph, temperature, salinity, several kinds of color-fastness, time in dye bath, pre and post mordanting. And they didn't say, "Well, it looks a little darker if you do this." No, they used a Perkin-Elmer Lambda 3B UV/Vis Spectrophotometer and the Kubelka-Munk equation to measure color strength. I love these guys.

The article--though eye-glazingly technical--was beautifully organized into short summary paragraphs that told me which mordant, pre and post, what ph, temperature, time, and amount of salt to use--with exact percentages!!!--to get the color I want. I am all touchy feely too, but being directed to sprinkle in "a handful" of this or a "scant dash" of that makes my skin itch. The only downside to the scientific approach is that they used a centrifuge to extract the Betalain pigment from the fruit. But, hey, Dave has been muttering about a centrifuge for cooking for awhile. Maybe we can share!

Also out in the wonderful interweb is a lovely blog called Small Things written by Ginny Sheller. She has a post about trying the prickly pear dye recipe from "harvesting color", and her results are MUCH more what I was hoping for. Of course I don't know anything she might have done differently from the basic instructions in the book, but it at least gives me hope for a more attractive color. I'll wait to try out the serious-science recipe with more ripe fruit later in the fall. For now I'll just sling it all together in a bucket and watch it rot, er, ferment.

Tomorrow I venture back into the yard and pick the remaining ripe fruit to take back to Polson with me on the plane. I have just enough time to do a fermented batch before we head back to Austin. Note to self: Wave the fruit over a gas flame to burn off all the micro spines before packing.


Dave Griffith said...

Feel free to bring the kitchen pH meter if you need to. It's in the drawer with the blowtorches and the nitrous whipper.

Bill said...

I get the impression that you're all in a ferment...