Monthly Archives: April 2015

Back to the Earth

20150421_103308I have spent the last four days with bright yellow fingertips and odd red spots under my fingernails. I’m suffering from something I’m going to call “dandelion fever”. Everybody knows you can use young, tender dandelion leaves in salads, and most people know that the roots are a coffee substitute and have some good health benefits. And of course, there’s wine. But recently I ran across some recipes for dandelion blossoms that I just had to try. I had no idea the flowers were edible.
It’s really a little late to try to make pickled dandelion buds, since most of the flowers are either wide open, or already gone to seed. But I did manage to find about ¾ cup spread over my 7000 square foot property. I pulled the sepals off, leaving that red under my nails, and put them in hot water to steep for a few days, then moved on to dandelion vinegar.
The vinegar was easier, since all you have to do is pick the flowers pack them in the jar, and cover with cider vinegar. It’ll be ready in a month. I have no idea what you use dandelion vinegar for. I guess it will make a nice vinaigrette.
When I finally bothered to taste a flower, I found it to be quite sweet. Good for salad dressings, but also good for sweetener. My third recipe was for dandelion “honey”. This is really dandelion-blossom simple syrup reduced down until it’s the thickness of honey.
I thought this would give me a flavored syrup, such as I get when I use lavender. Not so. I got something that tastes like honey! I mean really tastes like honey. How do people discover these things? My first thought was to imagine that out on the frontier, far from domesticated , this could have been a useful substitute on breakfast biscuits or flapjacks. But really, wild bees would be more plentiful than sugar, which would have to be imported from civilization. Maybe somebody just wanted to make her syrup yellow, and discovered the honey flavor as a byproduct.
It’s been decades since I did much wild crafting. In the 1970s, in my full hippie, back-to-the-land phase, my partner and I used to scavenge for Arizona walnuts (really too small for the effort, and so full of tannin that you have to boil them to make them edible), wild sunflower seeds (also very tiny), very tiny, thin-shelled acorns (also tannin laden), and roadside weeds that made good salads. We spent the summer gathering firewood, since that was our only heat come winter, and shared wild turkey (I don’t mean the alcoholic kind) at Thanksgiving.
In the past few years I’ve gotten into gardening, growing a lot of my own food in the summer. But somehow picking squash, or tomatoes out of my cultivated beds for dinner, no matter how healthful and satisfying, just isn’t quite the same as scavenging for wild things as I did when I was young. Ranging over my yard, I felt more in harmony with the Earth than I do when cultivating. Agriculture is a human invention. Gathering is a partnership between us and our Mother that is far, far older.
I had more fun with those dandelions that I’ve had doing anything with food for a long time. I fairly danced around the kitchen sterilizing jars, stirring syrup, pulling dandelion petals, rushing out for just a few more to fill the jar, not to mention putting the sepals and stems into the compost. I felt just like that hippie that I once believed I’d always be.
It will be weeks until I know whether my vinegar makes a good dressing. And weeks until I have buds to sprinkle into new potato salad. Apparently pickled dandelion buds are used in place of capers in Scandinavia. Maybe I’ll hate both foods. But it will have been worth it just to prepare them, just to go back in time to simpler days – mine and humankind’s.
Today is Earth Day, a day of remembrance and attention created by my generation. I consider it appropriate that I spent part of the day getting my buds into their pickling solution, and eating a lunch of pasta with basil and dandelion petals.