On Saturday I helped some friends race a lawnmower to gather dandelions for dandelion wine. We drank wildflower beer and picked the flowers apart in a house filled with laughter and sunshine, and I knew I’d be making my own batch soon. It’s been on my to-do list since last year.
K. and I drove out to Rochester for a Mother’s Day family gathering, and on the way the fields were full of yellow flowers. K’s mom mentioned a recipe for dandelion jelly that day and I added that to my mental list of things to do before dandelions turn into puffballs. I’m still working on gathering enough dandelions for three gallons of wine, but the jelly got crossed off the list the day after it was added!
When picking dandelions for wine or jelly, try to pick the heads and leave the stems behind. They’ll just pop off usually. The milky liquid that oozes out of the stems is bitter! The green base of each flower is bitter too, which means that you have to pull the yellow petals off each base. Some people use scissors, but I’ve had luck pinching the base with one hand and yanking the petals out with the other.
It took me maybe an hour and a half to gather 4 cups of dandelions to double this recipe. I would pick some, peel some, pick some, and peel some so they didn’t have time to close up after being picked. Luckily it was a gorgeous day, and the dandelions in our yard alone were just enough for the full 4 cups.
The petals are steeped and then strained, resulting in a surprisingly murky liquid. The boiling flowers make the whole house smell like a cut lawn. That’s my designated jam spoon, by the way. Just another piece of evidence to prove that I have a minor obsession with labeling things.
Our most recent houseguest C. brought us these adorable Martha Stewart tea towels. They’re perfect.
I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the jelly/jam process – at first, the equipment and procedures were so unfamiliar and intimidating to tackle by myself. I’ve learned a lot from three books: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook which goes into great detail on the entire jam-making process, The River Cottage Preserves Handbook which includes more types of preserves like pickles, and the classic Ball Blue book (I got an old one from a yard sale, and it provides guidelines for all methods of home canning, preserving, and freezing).
My jelly took a suspiciously long time to jell and yielded under half of the projected amount. I think that although the recipe does not specify which pectin to use, the Pomona’s pectin the author mentions must behave differently than good old Sure-Jell. Next time I’ll order some of that pectin (or just keep an eye out for a different recipe, maybe this one.)
So how’s the jelly? It tastes a little like sunshine and a lot like honey. Somehow I didn’t expect that, although it is made of flowers. We’ve only eaten it on Parker House rolls so far, and that combination was an almost dessert-worthy treat. I’m going to try and stash at least half of it to bring out in the middle of winter, since it’s such a warm-weather taste.
You know how once you learn a new fact or word, it starts popping up all over your life? In my dandelion research, I kept coming across Euell Gibbons’ name. Dude loved dandelions! They’re used in all kinds of folk remedies and herbal medicine, most famously as a diuretic. Thus their French name, “pissenlit.” Ha! I couldn’t bring myself to write that on a jar, though.
I’ve also started a jam/jelly logbook so I can learn from my adventures in preserving. Some urban foraging types have told me about all kinds of fruit growing around the city, and I’d love to eventually have a foolproof recipe for everything I can find here. I’m going to start a bread log too. (This blog is kind of a backup log, actually…) Chad Robertson of Tartine and Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit both spent about ten years perfecting their craft before they were satisfied. I don’t know if I have that kind of patience, but developing my own best jam or bread is worth the time experimenting and recording.
as usual, additional photos on Flickr