Dandelion Wine: Part 1
The boys bent, smiling. They picked the golden flowers. The flowers that flooded the world, dripped off lawns and brick streets, tapped softly at crystal cellar windows and agitated themselves so that on all sides lay the dazzle and glitter of molten sun.
~from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
This is what an organic lawn looks like in April in Massachusetts:
As you can see, the grass in our front-yard orchard has a good share of dandelions. The ones in the front are big and old, having never been disturbed by a Bobcat as the ones in the back yard have. There are many in the back yard as well, despite our best efforts at weeding last summer. It seems that dandelions have covered the fields around Low Street for at least a hundred years, before most houses were here. There is a columnist in our local paper who is in his nineties, and he writes about Newburyport as he remembers it as a child in the 1910s and 1920s. His column about foraging for dandelions on Low Street was of particular interest to us (even though he didn't mention that our house would have been on the street at that time, having been built in 1914). Since we're not about to dump chemicals on the lawn to try to get rid of a locally historic foodstuff (and because we are organic and/or lazy), we opted to make lemonade from our lemons; or, more specifically, dandelion wine from our dandelions.
To do this I went with the most laid-back recipe I could find, one that made no mention of brewer's yeast, racking, or other hoity-toity wine-making stuff like that. You can check it out at Root Simple, which is an interesting blog in its own right, although I am sometimes irritated reading about year-round warmth, avocadoes, and citrus in California gardens.
Anyway, the first step was to spend a sunny morning gathering a gallon of dandelion heads (no stems). I had some help in this from Tiegan and Jonas, and it's a pleasant way to spend an April vacation morning, particularly if there is a bit of an ocean breeze. Here's what a gallon of dandelion flowers looks like:
And here's what my dominant hand looks like after an hour of gathering dandelions:
The photo of the colander above was taken after I sifted through the flowers to check for missed stems. When I started, I tried peeling off any extra green at the base of the flower, and even removing the tiny yellow petals. Some recipes call for only the petals to cut down on any bitterness of dandelion greens, but I find it hard to believe that that kind of irritating finesse work is traditional, especially if a person was working in larger quantities than just the one gallon bucket we managed to fill on our half-acre.
After sifting through the blossoms and getting them into the colander, they were rinsed and thrown into the stock pot. Then I poured a gallon of boiling water over them and gave it a stir:
I have to admit, it looks pretty green right now, as all the flowers seem to want to float upside down in the water. Hopefully I won't regret my lazy attitude toward picking the petals off. This mixture has kind of a steamed spinach smell, by the way. I popped the lid on and set it aside to stew for the next couple of days. The hot water helps all the essential oils and nutrients out of the flowers — it's like making a giant batch of tea that will then be fermented into wine. More on that when the stewing is done.