National Dandelion Day
The Old Farmer’s Almanac claims that April 5th is Dandelion Day. I’m fairly certain this is not a thing, but it should be. Dandelions are pleasurable in so many ways. Just imagine an early summer lawn dotted with bee-covered smiling suns! And when you need calm, there is nothing better than sitting in the dandelions. In my opinion, dandelions are one of only three good reasons to grow turf.
(The other two are clover honey and baseball.)
With their long tap-root, dandelions bring nutrients up from the subsoil. They are feeding all the surrounding plants. Plant them in the greens bed for extra healthy salads. They are magnificent bee plants, absolutely loaded with pollen. Brush them to your face and you’ll be adorned with golden kisses. They are also loaded with nutrients, and all parts of the plant are edible. Steam the roots and eat them with a cheesy sauce. Eat young greens fresh from the garden with a balsamic dressing and maybe a bit of toasted walnut, or boil the older ones and eat them like collard greens. Make tea from the leaves and flowers for a refreshing spring tonic. The flowers can be eaten raw, though they’re bitter; the best way to enjoy these nutrient-dense natural snacks is in beer-batter fritters. (You must guard these from ravaging teenagers if you want to eat them yourself.) The second best way — and one that takes more planning — is to make dandelion wine. There’s a recipe below if you have flowers already.
Sadly, New England won’t be seeing dandelions for many weeks yet to come.
And we could really use a Dandelion Break…
poor maligned dandelion who dots fields in delight, such rancor we harbor for him. deemed weedy and vulgar, if he but shows his face we give the whole yard a trim. his exuberance eludes all command. there’s no reining in his joy. and for purloined freedom we grant no reprieve. it’s heads off for this bad boy! but when you find that your heart’s in a bind and your soul is craving renewal, you can not do better than head for the meadows and seek out this fair golden jewel. plop down in the sun drop all your cares stop all your endless mind churnings and if you’ve a wish then tell it to him for this dandy will quell all your yearnings.
I’m going to begin this recipe with a disclaimer: if you’ve never made wine, dandelion wine takes a long time. It takes months to ferment and then is best after it has aged for another year. So this is not a wine you’ll be drinking soon.
That said, dandelion wine is worth the wait. Especially since you’ll rarely find it for sale. It tastes like a cross between a dry white wine and mead, but with floral notes like nothing else in the fermentation cosmos. It also seems to be lighter on the alcohol that most other wines.
The hardest thing about this recipe is finding enough dandelion heads. It takes 2 quarts of flowers to brew this wine. Really, this is a project better begun in June or July, but somebody decided that April 5th was Dandelion Day… So here it is.
2 quarts dandelion flowers 1 gallon filtered or boiled water juice and zest from two lemons 1 lime, thinly sliced 1.5 lbs sugar 1 package wine yeast (comes in 1/5oz or 5g packages) (can also use baking yeast, a rounded 1/2tsp) 4Tbs cornmeal
Gather the dandelion flowers. Pick them after dew has dried but maybe not in the heat of the day since they wilt quickly. Wilting means it is losing liquid, meaning there will be less juice to flavor the wine. Be careful to avoid picking flowers where poisons are sprayed or where road chemicals will coat the plants. You’ll need somewhere around 50 large flower heads to make 2qts.
Remove all the green parts from the flowers. Compost the stems and the calyxes (the green part at the base of the flower). If some green bits get into the mix, that’s not a catastrophe, but keep in mind that the more green there is, the more the wine will taste bitter.
Carefully wash the flowers to remove any dirt. Use a light stream of cold water so you don’t wash away the flower’s essential oils — or the petals, which will try to get away as you rinse them.
While you are cleaning the flowers, bring the gallon of water to a boil.
When cleaned and trimmed, put the flowers in a large, heat-safe, non-reactive container, and pour the boiling water over the flowers. Lightly cover the container with a towel, and let this mixture steep for 2 hours.
Place a mesh sieve or a colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth in a large pot. Pour the water and flowers through the sieve, squeezing the flowers to release as much juice as possible. Then discard the flowers in the compost. (Or just toss them into the garden where they will rot quickly.
Bring the dandelion tea to a low boil.
Add the sugar and the fruit juice, zest and slices. Let the sugar dissolve and then remove from the heat. To cool off the pot quicker, partially fill your sink with cold water and place the pot in the cold water.
When the water is around skin temperature, add the yeast and whatever you are using for nutrient. If you are serious about wine-making, then get a supply of wine yeast and use that; but baking yeast will ferment just fine. It matters not at all what you use as nutrient. I’ve seen recipes that suggest just floating a small piece of yeast-slathered toast on the liquid. You are just kick-starting microbial growth.
Tightly cover the pot and let it stand at room temperature for ten days. You need to gently stir up the mixture each morning and each evening. So leave the pot somewhere accessible. If this is your first go at wine-making, I recommend leaving it where you will see it so you don’t forget. The stirring makes sure that no anaerobic fermentation starts happening at the bottom of the pot.
Strain the liquid into a sanitized 1 gallon jug, removing all the fruit and any remaining nutrient.
Seal the jug with a fermentation lock. These are available wherever canning supplies or wine-making supplies are sold. Ball even makes lids for their jars that are fitted with the lock on top. You can also make an airlock out of a balloon. Poke a pin through the end and fit the mouth of the balloon over the jug, securing it tightly with a rubberband. While I am loathe to make trash, this method does let you see when fermentation has nearly stopped — the balloon goes limp. Store the jug in a warm, dark, dry place.
You’ll need to continue to shake up the liquid periodically. At this stage, I think 3-4 times a week is fine, but some people shake it up every day. Again, you are keeping the liquid aerated and keeping unwanted microbes out.
At 4 weeks, siphon or gently pour the liquid into another sterilized gallon jug, leaving behind the sediment. (As much as possible…)
Seal with an airlock (or balloon) and leave in a warm, dry place. Do not stir this liquid. When the liquid is no longer cloudy, wait for 14 days, then siphon or gently pour the liquid into another sterilized jug, leaving behind the sediment.
Repeat the last step every 12 weeks for a total of 9 months. It is done when there is no more sediment forming at the bottom of the jug. (Or the balloon goes limp.)
Before bottling, if there is more than two inches between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jug, top off the liquid with sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water simmered until the combined starting volume is reduced by half).
Use a funnel to pour the liquid into sterilized wine jars. Cork and set in a cool, dark, dry place to age. It is recommended that wine be aged with the bottle on its side. This keeps the cork from drying out and shrinking, breaking the seal. (You’re also supposed to turn the bottles over periodically, but I don’t bother with this because I don’t live in a place where cork is going to desiccate within the year or two that wine stays in its bottle.)
This wine is best bottle-aged for another year after fermentation.
This is an unexpectedly dry wine, so it goes with just about everything.
One note: there are ways to ferment this recipe more quickly. This Old Farmer’s Almanac recipe takes just a few weeks of fermentation and six months of aging. But it also uses raspberries (for color and flavor) which might speed up the yeast action. So before you even pick a flower, familiarize yourself with a variety of recipes to see what feels right to you.
One More Thing…
Passover also begins today. A traditional part of the Passover seder is eating bitter herbs, including endives, lettuces, and… dandelion greens.
©Elizabeth Anker 2023
1 thought on “The Daily: 5 April 2023”
How refreshing it is to read a post praising dandelions instead of complaining about them! I don’t mind them growing anywhere in my garden.
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