When life gives you dandelions, make dandelion wine.
In my mother’s front yard is a lawn, of sorts. Originally planted with dichondra, through the years it has been mostly taken over by a mix of clover, various grasses and an assortment of weeds including a substantial population of dandelions. For decades she insisted on “taking care” of it herself, as it slowly declined. She has rigidly resisted replacing it, and at this point spraying for the weeds is out of the question since mostly dirt would be left. A couple of years ago she finally turned over the care to me and I’ve ripped out the thistles and most of the burrs and such, but the dandelions are so many and so deeply rooted that there is nothing to be done to keep them from going to seed but pick the blossoms, and that is an exceedingly tedious chore.
So it was with great delight that I discovered a positive option in my Norwegian grandmother’s cookbook, a well-worn and well-loved volume printed in 1915 and the basis for her years of cookery on a wood stove in a small Wisconsin farm house without any indoor plumbing except a kitchen hand pump.
The pages are richly yellowed, selectively dog-eared with many stains and not a few rips and tears, while the binding has split and separated long ago. Included throughout, on the blank pages at the end of each chapter, are recipes written in her own hand including one for dandelion wine:
2 qts of dandelion blossoms, 2 oranges
and two lemons, cut up skins and
all, 4 lbs of granulated sugar and
4 qts of boiling water. Let stand 24
hours, strain and squeeze, put into
a jar or jug, let stand until thor-
oughly fermented, and in November
bottle for use. One can make
this a year ahead and have it on
hand all the time.
This year those annoying little blossoms will be going to a better use than the green recycle bin, and my attitude while picking them has noticeably improved. Depending on the weather a day’s harvest yields a handful or more:
They are washed thoroughly and then put in a freezer bag to save, since kept at room temperature they quickly turn brown and rot. I’ll get the oranges from her neighbor on one side and the lemons from her neighbor on the other, in trade for tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers from my vegetable garden, so overall the cost for this wine will be minimal. In grandmother’s day they depended on wild yeasts for what would have been an uncertain course of fermentation, but I’ll go high-tech and use a high-alcohol yeast from a local brewing supply store.
Accounts from my mother and other surviving relatives who were allowed a taste – Grandma was stingy with her wine – all say it was light, fruity and unusual. In her own words,
It is a clear white
wine, not a bitter taste as one
might think, and considered valuable
for its healthful properties, especially
in the spring when a tonic is
It also reportedly had quite a kick, which explains the emphasis on its health properties as recreational alcoholic drinks were sinful in her devout Norwegian Lutheran belief. Still, she must have had more than one sip on occasion, as she included this warning to the unwary:
Care should be exercised
in its use, for while it is not
considered intoxicating as a drink
it is very exhilarating.
Certainly hoping for some of that exhilaration, to go along with the healthfulness. My target is a 4 1/2 gallon must, for which I will need 2 gallons of dandelion blossoms. The stems and green guard leaves are discarded, so I’m guessing I’ll need to amass 4 gallons of blossom heads or more. Right now I have a little more than a gallon in the freezer, so there’s some ways to go before I start the fermentation.
I expect to be able to bottle as directed by the first of November if not sooner, and will keep posting as I proceed. The neighbors have all gotten a good laugh out of this project, so I am anticipating showing them up with an unusual taste treat for New Year’s Eve.
Just a sip, mind you; wouldn’t want to contribute to sinfulness in others.