The first of the dandelions have raised their pesky golden heads. Pesky in that if viewed as weeds, they must be dug up by the roots before their heads go to seed. (How lovely to remember the innocence of childhood that led to my blowing tiny, fairy fluff hither and yon… unconscious of the damage I was doing to the neighbors’ lawns.)
But not everyone comes to dandelions with loathing and negativity. Some people eat the greens. I make wine. Give the wine five years, and it is nectar of the gods. Yes, you can find recipes on-line, but these are modern recipes. I use my grandmother’s recipe. If it’s old, it has to be good, right? Not really, but making Grandma’s recipe won’t cost you an arm and a leg to buy what you need. And my grandmother? You can trust her. She had two corsets – a pliable, broken-in corset for every day and a barrel-staved corset for church. As a source of a down-home recipe, you can’t beat a woman in an Old Time corset.
Yes, you can buy wine bottles and a capper, (I really like the labels on the Mento Mori bottles pictured to the left) but a really nice bottle sort of detracts from the earthiness of the wine. Mason jars work… and using Mason jars adds a certain cachet. Very earthy… reminiscent of back hills brewing and stills… close to the source and Mother Nature. If you don’t have Mason jars on hand. Look for vintage jars with character at Goodwill; otherwise, in a pinch buy a dozen new.
The dandelions themselves are very important. Be sure that you are picking blossoms free of pesticides. Scout the neighborhood. You want lots of dandelions in one place. I personally prefer picking at the Abbey on Route 50 in Canon City. The grounds are thick with dandelions – a yellow carpet just waiting for bare feet. Closer to home, Beckwith Ranch had a good crop on densely-packed dandelions last year. Life doesn’t get any better than the sun on your back as you harvest your bounty. Work fast. You don’t want the blossoms to lose their vitality.
On your return home, pour one gallon of boiling water over 1 gallon of blossoms. (I use a five-gallon, white bucket from ACE.) As with any recipe, increase the ingredients in proportion to the number of blossoms. Let the mixture stand in a cool place for 72 hours. Pour the liquid in a kettle and add the rind of 2 lemons and 2 oranges. Boil for 1/2 hour. Add 3 pounds of sugar and the pulp and juices of the fruit. Allow the mixture to cool and then add 1/2 yeast cake. Strain through cheesecloth and allow the liquid to stand for a week in a warm place.
This mixture will smell like a feedlot. If you store the mixture in the public areas of your house, do not invite dinner guests. Repeat the straining process to assure a clear liquid. When the brew stops fermenting, bottle the wine. BEWARE! Do NOT bottle until all fermentation has ceased.
You can drink the wine immediately after you bottle it; however, every year your wine ages, the more complex and interesting the beverage. If you drink the wine immediately, serve it in a cracked coffee cup – preferably in a nod to the past, a heritage coffee cup. Save the wine glasses until the nectar has the patina of old gold.
And with compliments to Ray Bradbury, author of DANDELION WINE, who wrote: “I want to feel all there is to feel, he thought. Let me feel tired, now, let me feel tired. I mustn’t forget, I’m alive.”