Monday, April 19, 2010

Dandelions on the table

The annual torrent of curses is now pouring forth from my usually mild-mannered husband as he digs the first crop of dandelions out of our lawn. Weed though they are, I can't say I begrudge their presence. Dandelions bring a bright, cheery punch of yellow to otherwise neglected lots in our neighborhood. My son is having great fun following his father with the "compost wagon" and collecting the yanked plants for our various piles.

Had we been a little earlier in the season, my husband's efforts could have been directed towards the kitchen rather than the compost pile. All of our recent travel made us lag in the lawn foraging and by now, in full flower, the dandelion greens are bitter. The new rosettes are the tastiest, but even they are an acquired taste in the era of the mild tasting plastic-packed "spring mix" available at the supermarket. Last year, I collected enough rosettes to make a filling for Greek hand-pies, basically a fried turnover oozing with a feta, onion and dandelion greens stuffing. Even tricked out with the onions, cheese and fried dough, the greens were a tough sell for my dinner guests. I admit I ate them mostly on principle and with a copious amount of wine to wash them down.

On a more palatable note, I made dandelion wine long ago and am pondering the manufacture of another batch. There is a dilemma, however: the recipe I used came from the king of all foragers, Euell Gibbons, and calls for a large bucket of blossoms. Even without my husband's manual war on weeds, our paltry lot would hardly yield enough blossoms for a quart jar, let alone a bucket. But where should I turn for more? I am pretty skittish about urban foraging in these parts....who knows what pesticides and heavy metals and residues lurk in the vacant lots and fields. I watch my neighbors pour large bottles of chemicals all over their yards courtesy of Home Depot. The wine may be a project stowed away until I have the time to access a more reliably pollutant-free area of land.

So, I have made a note to try to catch the young rosettes in time for eating next year. This time, forget the feta. I'm going with bacon. As most chefs have tiresomely proved in every restaurant I've visited this year, add bacon to anything and people will order it in droves. In her excellent memoir, Little Heathens, Mildred Kalish recalls the bacon-drenched dandelions of her childhood in Depression-era Iowa. Though now eighty years have passed, she still recalls with relish the first Spring days with new dandelion greens on the table, braised in a hearty amount of bacon fat. They surely tasted ambrosial to her hungry six year-old body after months of canned- and dried-food drudgery. Be you gardener or cook, if you have yet to read this book, I suggest you immediately place it on the reading list. It is full of such gentle wisdom and kind judgement that one leaves the pages almost jealous of the deprivation Kalish suffered, dandelions and all.

1 comment:

  1. When I used to live in the far south suburbs, many years ago, there would be large groups of people who would cruise up and down Joe Orr Road with big black garbage bags foraging for dandelions.

    My chilren were young at the time and wondered what they were doing. Since I didn't want to mention wine to them, I told them they were going to make salads out of the dandelions. I think it was pretty safe to say they were pesticide free.