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.

2 comments:

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...