Fine as Dandelion Wine

It may very well be the most recognizable weed of them all. Neon yellow plushes of petals bend toward the high summer sun, before closing in the cool night. Days later, the pom-poms turn to grey cotton balls of seeds that float away to unknown distances. The dandelion. Despised by many. Underutilized by even more. What most consider an ugly invasive weed is perhaps one of the most versatile, inexpensive, and easy to find plants around.


The dandelion's uses go on forever. As a young flower bud, it can be pickled or capered.

When the plant matures, the tender leaves make an excellent addition in salads, as do the sweet pollen-packed petals. When the flowers are large, the stems can be clipped and used as whimsical drinking straws. Even the root of the plant is edible, and can be roasted as a potato substitute.

But what about beverages?

Could a delicious alcoholic drink really be concocted from such a common plant? That's where dandelion wine makes an entrance.

The history of dandelion wine varies, but it's most likely contributed to a simple accident, in which steeping dandelion petals began to ferment. Our most excellent bar keep at First and South, Kevin, had a recipe passed down to him from his grandfather. He remembers tasting the stuff as a young lad, and enjoyed it, but has never had the opportunity to make a batch of his own.

I had first read of the elusive beverage in my favorite childhood book series, Redwall. In it, Brian Jacques vividly describes elaborate feasts amongst the characters, often taking place at a monstrous communal table within an Abbey set in Mossflower Woods. One of the beverages consumed in the summer heat was described as a Dandelion and Burdock Cordial. A cool floral beverage.

It was simple to determine that we needed to make a batch of this stuff because of, if nothing else, a need to fulfill a childhood memory.

First, we needed a recipe. That was the easy part. Kevin's mother was able to procure his grandfather's old handwritten notes on the subject. We decided that we would stick to the recipe as best as possible, for traditions sake. It would take a little decoding as it used several vague measuring terms such as "a third of a cake of yeast" and a "bag of raisins". Nevertheless, we pressed on.

Next, we would need the flowers. Lots and lots of them. The ancient recipe called for two full quarts of  just petals to brew a single gallon of wine. Lucky for us, I new just the place. A veritable treasure trove of beautiful weeds. We made our way there, and began picking.


It was essential to find an area that hadn't been inflicted with harsh pesticides and other chemicals, lest they end up in the final product. 



The warm spring sun and mindless work made the perfect setting for good conversation. The only thing that would have made it better is an icy glass of dandelion wine. Even the honey bees joined in the fun...


After about an hour of picking, we had managed to gather over twelve quarts of flowers which, we hoped, would render us with at least two quarts of petals.


It was time to get the flowers back to the kitchen and begin the process of removing the aromatic petals from the rest of the bud. It is essential to pick the flowers quickly, or they will begin to close up, making the procedure much more painful than it really needs to be. The green parts of the flower must not be included in the wine, for they impart a very bitter and astringent flavor.

Some hours later, we were rewarded with a full two quarts of flower petals.


The next step was to steep the petals in water for three days. This would infuse the flower's flavor and create a tasty tea to begin our fermentation.


After straining, the last step was to add fruit, in this case, lemons, oranges, and raisins. Sugar and yeast were also added. 



The final brew must sit at room temperature for 13 days to ferment to a desired alcohol level and sweetness. The strained wine, when completed, will be fairly sweet and will weigh in at nearly 16% alcohol. We're only about 5 days in and already the mixture has begun to bubble. Very exciting! Very much looking forward to reporting the final results with all of you. 

In an ideal world, we will have the self control to set some aside for drinking on a chilly winter day. What could be more cheerful than a sunny glass of dandelion wine while watching the snow fall? 

Stay tuned.

Taylor







Photo Credits: Katelyn Luce Photography 

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About Cooking Curiously...

This is a place for food nerds to roam free. A place for me to document my tales and experiences concerning that wonderful substance known as FOOD. I find it incredible how many forms it can take, and the impact it can have on our lives. Hopefully, I can make some of those forms tangible here. The following posts will range from travel stories to new dishes and recipes, some restaurant reviews, maybe just an interesting food thought. Regardless, this is meant to be an open forum for both myself and any followers. Feel free to post and comment. Enjoy!

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