by Lynn Kerrigan
April Showers Bring May Flowers
The Making of Dandelion Wine
I have few memories of my Grandfather —he died when I was ten. The scraps that linger though center on one summer I spent with both Gram and Pop-Pop when my mother needed a break from the kids. My little sister went to Aunt Mae's, my older sister was shuffled off to our other Grandmother and I —well, I was shipped out to where there was the most fun.
My grandparents lived near the New Jersey seaside, a popular tourist spot. It was far enough away to be free of the sunburned summer hordes and teeming traffic, yet close enough to take a fifteen minute drive to the beach— but that wasn't the fun part. What was special was getting the undivided attention of both grandparents. I was their favorite and it showed.
Every weekday night after playing a few rousing rounds of pinochle with me, my grandfather would slip down to what my grandmother referred to as the "root cellar," a dirt floor basement used to store gadgets and doodads no one would ever want or need.
"What's he doing down there, Gram? I asked.
"Cooking up trouble," she'd reply with pursed, disapproving lips. "And don't you ever go poking your nose down there, young lady," she'd warn. "It's no place for a young girl."
Saying that was like throwing kerosene on the open flame. The first chance I got, I tiptoed down to the "crawl space" entering through a hidden door in the cramped laundry room. Even my little ten-year old self had to stoop low to get in, but once inside I was able to stand tall. What I found was a maze of tubing, rows of marching jugs and a multitude of dandelions stuck in jars of water. Before I could investigate further, my grandmother found me and soundly whacked my bottom with her famous wooden spoon.
It wasn't until many years after Grandfather died that images of that musty, old root cellar wafted through my mind—the smell of sweet dandelions, the square, tall jugs, the maze of tubes swirling overhead. I should have figured out long before then what he was doing every weekday night of that long, hot summer. My grandmother may have disapproved of his activity, but she sure didn't object to enjoying the fruits of his labor, as every weekend night we'd all sit out on the porch, under a canopy of stars and while I played, they sipped Grandfather's homemade dandelion wine.
Until the turn of the nineteenth century, cooking and brewing with blossoms was common. Though today, modern homeowners abhor the dandelion as the scourge of their well-manicured lawn, dandelions were a staple of European kitchens for hundreds of years and deliberately brought to America by the settlers. American colonists used all parts of the plant for brewing medicinal tea, wine, and beer. Tender leaves were added to salads or cooked as a green. The petals are mildly sweet when picked young.
Dandelions bloom from May through July. It's the dandelion blossom that makes fine, mildly sweet wine and unlike my grandfather, no special equipment is needed.
General rules for making dandelion wine:
- Only use homegrown or organically grown dandelions. Never use dandelions from chemically treated lawns.
- Harvest young blossoms —they tend to have a gentler flavor.
- Harvest the buds in early morning the same day you make the wine.
- If you must store the dandelions before making the wine, wrap the entire dandelion in paper towels, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate.
- Gently separate the blossom from the rest of the flower just before making the wine.
- Trim off any white tips, which tend to be bitter. Throw away the stem and sepal.
- If wilted, refresh by dipping in ice water.
- Handle blossoms carefully to prevent bruising.
- Gently wash the blossoms in cool water.
The pollen of composite flowers like dandelions is highly allergenic and may cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Sufferers of asthma, ragweed, and hayfever should not consume composite flowers, and may have extreme allergies to ingesting any flowers at all.
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This page created May 2000
Copyright © 1998-2001, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
This page modified February 2007