Dandelion Wine: Part 2
"Every year," said Grandfather. "They run amuck; I let them. Pride of lions in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion."
~from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
So after a couple of days of soaking, our dandelion heads were ready to drain:
We poured the now yellow water (really a dandelion tea at this point) into a large pot. We strained the liquid through cheesecloth and a sieve, and Kirk also squeezed all the juice out of the mushy flowers:
And since we're good, we set the cheesecloth aside to dry and save for later. Here's the base for our dandelion wine:
It still smells like spinach to me, but at least it's yellow. I'm not sure why there's a flashlight involved in this process — I have no memory of that.
Next up: zesting four lemons and four oranges:
As Kirk zested, I cut the fruits in half and juiced them over the pot of dandelion tea, which we had set on the stove to bring to a boil. The boiling step was not in the laid-back recipe I was using as reference, but we needed to melt the sugar somehow, and it seemed like a basic food safety thing to take care of a days-at-room-temperature wildflower tea.
In addition to the zest, juice, and a little pulp of the citrus, we also added two or three tiny slivers of fresh ginger. The ginger was a common flavoring I read about in other recipes for dandelion wine. And honestly, as this came to a boil it did not smell good, so we'll take whatever yummy flavors we can get.
After it all came to a boil, we added two pounds of sugar:
If you've been following along with the recipe, you'll notice that this is only half of the amount of sugar called for. As I did some more research, I discovered that dandelion wine is often sweet, but it is possible to make a drier wine if you want (which we do). Based on the last three dandelion wine recipes on this guy's incredibly thorough wine-making site, we cut the sugar in half to just two pounds.
We may regret playing fast and loose with the recipe, but there are endless variations on dandelion wine out there, so there seems to be no right or wrong way to do it. And since it doesn't even smell good right now (seriously, not at all), we feel like we really don't have anything to lose. But this does point out the need to experiment with other people's fruit before we dive headlong into fermenting our own precious harvest — there's no way we would sacrifice our apples or pears or grapes to an untested recipe, as this experience is likely to teach us. We'd also invest in some actual equipment too. And if it turns out great, well, good on us.
Anyway, after the mixture came to a boil, we took it off the heat and had to wait for the temperature to come back down to about 100 degrees or so, which took a few hours. That's so that it's not too hot for the yeast, which is, after all, a living organism. We strained the mixture, which by this time was smelling and tasting kind of like a Halls lozenge (so less terrible than earlier in the day):
The wine mixture is going through the cheesecloth and the strainer into our sauerkraut crock--perhaps we should call it our general fermentation crock instead. We squeezed the juice out of the pulp and zest that was left in the cheesecloth and stirred in the yeast. It's regular old Fleischmann’s — don't judge.
And now it sits, with a clean linen dishcloth covering the crock. Dandelion yellow — a nice touch, no? Eagle-eyed readers will notice that although this is the same crock and same spot by the heat register in the dining room where we kept our sauerkraut last fall, the decor has changed. We redid the dining room over February vacation, so our fermentation corner has some nice new wallpaper. Because that's important for fine wine.
There's a bunch of stirring in our future with this, and I'll let you know how it goes.
One last note: Thanks goes out to our budding photojournalists for the action shots they took of this process in the kitchen today. Good work, Tiegan and Jonas!