dandelion wine

The self-indulgence sweater is coming along; was freaked out that I had several dozen stitches too many per row, until I studied my knitting log and realized I was looking at the stitch count for the back. Mindfulness, Your Sheepness!

Another foot of snow this week.  Winter still owns the stage. In the warm and friendly pub, the conversation turned to lagering, yeast strains, and the best bottles for home brew (rubber gaskets and wire bails).  I think of my family history, which includes a Dutch brewer, a Canadian tavern keeper, and a family recipe for dandelion wine.

As if these memories came alive, wire-bail bottles jumped into my market basket the next day, along with the vague thought of eventually making the family wine recipe. Later the same morning, I found huge bunches of fresh dandelion greens at the farmer’s market.  Whoo boy, this is fate.

Sunday last: I’m cleaning the kitchen, sterilizing pans, and spending hours washing greens.  My great-aunt’s handwritten cookbook lies open; the traces of her handwriting (youth, marriage, old age) tell me a piece of her life story.  The wine recipe appears three times -- obviously it was important, a legacy.  

It’s frustrating that as a small child I didn’t get to know this great-aunt better.  I have one photo of her: she is in her nursing uniform, probably right after graduation. Her parents look serious and proud.  My great-aunt leans towards the camera, a twinkle in her eye; she’s sticking out her tongue, laughing at us all.

The recipe is frustrating as well.  Even with three recipes to compare, some details are sketchy.  How much is 4 quarts of dandelions - a bushel or a peck?  What part of the dandelion? Greens? Or Flowers? How much is a gallon?   Are we talking American (128 ounces) or Canadian Imperial (160 ounces)? “Dip a piece of toast in yeast and float it on top ....” What kind of bread? What kind of yeast? Wine yeast? Bread yeast?  Dry, cake or liquid?  And again -- does it really matter?

Over the next several days, I “pour on a gallon of boiling water,” (Imperial), let the greens ferment, strain out the solids, add the sugar and lemon and orange and ginger, dip whole-grain toast in reconstituted culinary yeast and float it on top.

Now, a week later, there is a scent of alcohol.  This afternoon, further straining - and the wine is settled for a two-month sleep in a tightly sealed “jar.”  Shortly after May Day, I’ll bottle it.

Who knows what the product is supposed to be like, will be like? Probably terribly sweet, perhaps a bit medicinal.  Maybe it is a folk remedy, some sort of tonic.  This is not made clear, because it was already clear to the scribe.  Like some knitting patterns, these notes are a compass, rather than a map. 

Even traditional societies are being fractured by mobile phones, email, and the Internet. Aunts and grannies are not often there to pass on the finer points, the unspoken clarity behind the notes.

I could research the recipe on a dozen Internet forums, find scientifically precise brewing instructions, even a ton of specialized gear; but there is something about adapting the commonplace, deciphering the handwriting, feeling the traces of ancient flour between the cookbook pages that no amount of accuracy can replace.

I’m glad we embrace the chaos, Ace, and use media efficiently and often, sharing  our days, our recipes, our lives; and I’m even happier when we get together -- perhaps over a glass of dandelion wine.




 Orange, Lemon, Ginger

Boil with sugar 20 min

With toast laid on



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