Make your own dyes.

Working out how to produce red and blue plant colourings has taken me years. Before that I was happily using artificial Azo dyes like everyone else. I dabbled with natural earth pigments like iron oxide. The problem with pigments is that not being dissolvable in oil they tend to clog up the candle wick. But the damage had been done. Other people were also trying to get back to basics. The perfume industry was being wrecked by Health and Safety issues forcing recipes to be redone without direct natural ingredients. But artisan perfumers got back to basics by using essential oils instead, and the industry is taking note of them. Blue Smarties sweets were removed as the synthetic dye was found dangerous until recently Nestles brought them back with a 'natural' seaweed dye. The original consumer pressure group was The Campaign For Real Ale where customers began to reject homogenised highly processed beer in the seventies. The Slow Food Movement is doing the same at the moment, and Slow Money is next.

I tried all the centuries old recipes using madder, alkanet, dragons blood, beet, woad, indigo and so on. You certainly look at the Bayeaux and other old tapestries in a different light when you know what you are doing with those ingredients has been done centuries ago.

Back To Nature movements or Utopias tend to pop up in times of economic or political stress. I am fascinated by Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical movement and William Morris' Arts and Crafts Movement, both of the turn of the century. Both used plant colourings and for good reasons- they appear to have life. Günter Meier - a research director of the Plant Dye Laboratory at the Steiner Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland has worked out why plant dyes were more suitable for this Cathedral. Synthetic dyes appear only on the retina's cone, due to their purity, and this gives a hardening effect. Eyes struggle with the one-sidedness. On the other hand plant dyes always have a tone from the complementary colour, and this activates the retina's rods. Thus the eye gets more balance and the brain is less alarmed.

Anyway, here is a recipe for a green chlorophyll oil-based candle dye. Traditionally green has been made from mixing blue and yellow. You might also like to try Asda's natural green dye as this is a mixture of Turmeric and Seaweed. But this recipe is good fun and makes a great albeit non-fast dye for practically free.

Green Dye

Get a Parsley plant for about £1 (Tesco) and a coffee filter paper. Pull off 30gm leaves. Put the leaves and 2 cups of water into a blender and process for a minute or two until you get a bright green liquid. Strain this through a fine sieve into a saucepan and keep the remains for vegetable stock. Over a low heat, stir constantly until you see green particles rising to the surface. Pour this into a container along with a little cold water or ice, shake to mix and leave in the fridge to cool. When cold, pour through the coffee filter in the (cleaned) sieve, don't squeeze the mixture as the filter will break and retain the liquid for vegetable stock. Once drained let the the green chlorophyll paste dry overnight then scrape it from the filter into a small jar and cover with rapeseed or sunflower oil. Shake and store in the fridge. Keep watering the Parsley plant- the leaves will grow back quickly.

Yellow Dye

Made from carrots. Make a free lunch as well as a great dye!

You will need a juicer, a double pan (Bain Marie or an oven that can reliably work under 100C), an 18cm funnel (£1 from WIlkinsons), a big glass jar (like a 500gm Pasta sauce jar- and that will be the last time you buy one...) and another coffee filter paper. A juicer is needed to remove most of the water, and you will get a free healthy carrot juice.

Slice the tops off a handful of mud-free carrots. Juice them and you will get a big glass of carrot juice. Lay the carrot pulp on a sheet or two of absorbent kitchen roll. Put another sheet or two on top and leave overnight so that most of the water evaporates or is absorbed by the paper. Weigh the pulp and put it in the Bain Marie. Add the same weight of sunflower oil (or supermarket rapeseed which is colourless- natural rapeseed is already yellow). Bring to a boil but do not cover so as to allow the rest of the water to boil off, then turn the gas right down for an hour stirring occasionally. A Bain Marie will not go over 100C, but if you use an oven instead over 110C then the carrot will discolour. Turn the gas off and leave for 15 minutes to cool.

Now get the jar, funnel and filter paper ready to take the pulp. Carefully pour it in whilst keeping the filter paper level and open. Leave overnight. You should get a nice clear orange liquid weighing the same as the original pulp. You can squeeze another 10% oil out of the pulp if you are careful. That's it. The oil can be diluted by 50% to get an acceptable yellow candle colour.

Now for the rest of that free lunch. Pasta a la Carota. This is adapted from the recipe by chef Mario Batali. You will need an onion, tomatoes, herbs, and some more, preferably olive, oil. Chop and fry the onion, add the carrot pulp, pureed tomatoes and herbs. Mix well and then add some of the boiling water or chlorophyll vegetable stock until the sauce is suitably runny. You could try swapping the tomatoes for mushrooms if you have enough pulp. 

Natural Candle Making Kit. Hints, tips & offers.

This is a good kit for novice to experienced candle makers. Children from 5 will find it fascinating, so please supervise them. The idea is to make your own candles using a good oil made locally and also to show that natural colours are best. You can make 12 tealight candles or 5 cup candles weighing up to a total of 200gm.

So find a local rapeseed oil- practically every county has one or two. Why not find one at your local farmers market? Or, Sainsburys Taste The Difference British Rapeseed is good as it comes from the Cotswolds and is high oleic which means it's good at frying and burning- the makers, R-oil show other shops on the website. Get a discount when you buy  the Candle Kit with a Local Rapeseed oil:  full details on Facebook when you Like us.

Cup containers should be glass or ceramic up to 5cm wide and about 7cm deep. They can be wider if you get a thicker wick (look for ECO 4 & 6 wick on ebay, say). A glass votive holder or coffee cup is good. A tea cup is too big. Charity shops are good for cups & glasses, but these should not be too old as they have to be microwave safe, so also avoid gold or silver flash. 

If you are worried about using your microwave you can instead use a Bain Marie double pan, or just an empty tin in a small pan of boiling water.

What about making your own glass containers out of jam/pasta/curry jars? This is a good idea except that the cost of the cutter is about £40 (Ephrem's Botttle Cutting Tool is best- from The Creative Glass Guild), and it is difficult to get a good smooth cut (though it won't be dangerous).

Fragrance. You can use up to 4% essential oils in the wax. Avoid oils with a low flash point. Lavender is good.

If you have difficulty in producing a good yellow or green wax then use the above recipes or cheat by getting ASDA's natural yellow & green (the other colours will not work). The main problem with local rapeseed, apart from the high price, is also its virtue- that of being naturally yellow. This is essential for yellow colours but no good if you want blue. That is when you need to filter the yellow out with the fullers earth supplied. To filter you will need a plastic funnel (£1 from Wilkinsons), preferably 8cm wide, the filter paper supplied, and two clean jam jars (smaller 340gm ones are fine). If you really can't be bothered to filter then use a supermarket refined oil- it's cheaper as well. We will be offering a Woad candlemaking kit which will require cheap supermarket oil as fuller earth is not supplied with the kit- though do use your own.

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