I read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine as a kid, but don’t remember much of it – I think my brain mixed it up with parts of The Martian Chronicles, especially “There Will Come Soft Rains,” until all that I can dredge up when I think of dandelion wine is that feeling of yearning for the past. Dandelion wine is made in the first warmth of spring and it’s ready to drink around Christmas, so it’s like a time capsule of the sunny days when the dandelion flowers were gathered.
The best way to tackle dandelion wine is to gather a bunch of friends to pick and separate enough flowers. I decided I wanted to make my own three gallon batch, which required two pounds of dandelions. With a little help from N. and K. and a lucky spate of gorgeous sunny weather, I spent several days scraping together one pound fifteen ounces of dandelion petals. By the time I got that far, there was no way I was venturing out for another ounce. Lesson learned: involve some friends next time.
Another good lesson: you can freeze dandelion petals until you’re ready to use them.
I used a recipe from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking, which is a great book if you’re thinking of getting into Irish bread, foraging, using every part of the animal, and making your own dandelion wine and apple cider. I made a double recipe, enough to fill one of the three-gallon carboys we got from a guy on Craigslist.
It involves four ingredients: dandelions, sugar, oranges, and yeast. Dried yeast, not champagne yeast – I didn’t even have to make a trip to Niagara Tradition.
Two pounds is a LOT of dandelion petals. They don’t weigh much! There was one night where I was so tired but wanted to finish separating all the flowers I’d gathered that day and K. was helping me and then pointed out that the two things making me miserable at that moment, the dandelion project and the onset of vicious seasonal allergies, were probably related to each other and we both couldn’t stop laughing. It was one of those hilarious-because-of-exhaustion things. I don’t think I’ll ever learn not to take on projects that are almost too much for me.
Anyway, yesterday morning the wine went in the carboy and now it’s just beginning to bubble away in the furnace closet. Once it clears I’ll bottle it, and once the cold weather sets in for real (already not excited about that) we’ll have a little taste of the beginning of spring to get us through the dark days. Hopefully. If it all doesn’t go terribly wrong somewhere along the way.
Dandelion Wine from Forgotten Skills of Cooking
1lb dandelion flowers
6 cups white sugar
4 oranges (organic if possible)
1 teaspoon dried yeast
Measure the yellow dandelion heads, discarding as much green leaf as possible (without being too pernickety). Meanwhile bring 1 gallon of water to a boil.
Pour the boiling water over the flowerheads and leave to steep for 2 days. Don’t exceed the time or what can be a delicious table wine may be spoiled.
Bring the mixture to a boil, add the thinly pared slivers of the orange zest (no white pith), and continue to boil for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth onto the sugar and stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar fully.
Leave to cool. Then add the yeast and juice from the oranges. Put the mixture into a fermentation jar and fit an airlock. Siphon off into clean bottles when the wine has cleared – about 2 months. It should be just right for drinking by Christmas.
**I activated the yeast in a little boiled-then-cooled water before I added it, on the advice of some homebrewing acquaintances. Once in the carboy, I also added water to bring the total mixture to 3 gallons, since it was way low (probably because I boiled it one extra time – long story.) And a sharp vegetable peeler is my personal tool of choice when paring oranges. Now you know where all that citrus peel came from!
And that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject of dandelion wine until December rolls around and we crack open a bottle or two. If you’re looking to make your own dandelion wine (or jelly), you should start soon because before too long all your local dandelions will be turning into this:
See you next year, “pissenlit.”