Dandelions are blooming in meadows, roadsides, gardens and lawns, sending up pretty flowers to dot the landscape like coins of gold. Every flower is a perfect disk, a tiny mirror of the sun.
And yet, the dandelion is not considered a wildflower. perhaps because it's so common. At one time it was a valued plant, but now people do horrible things to dandelions wherever they grow.
And what is a weed but a plant that grows without being asked? The dandelions isn't a bad plant, or a malicious one, just one that's uninvited. Make friends with it and it will reward you.
If you're friends, you won't get angry or depressed when you see dandelions blooming where you planted grass. Instead of going out to inject them with weedkillers, you can go out and gather the flowers, and make them into delicious dandelion wine.
It's an old-fashioned beverage, light and bright, with a sunny yellow color and a nice kick. It's delicate, and because it takes a gallon of flowers to make a gallon of wine, it's usually served in small glases.
A gallon of dandelion flowers is a lot of picking, but if you choose a sunny morning, what work could you find that would be more pleasant than sitting in a dotted field, smelling spring and picking flowers?
If you want to save spring in a bottle of golden wine, you have to pick a perfect, clear day. Cloudy skies won't open the dandelion flowers fully. Take a bag or bucket and head for a spot where dandelions are plentiful. Bring a friend and it'll be a pleasant outing, conversation makes the picking quicker.
Don't select a spot near a highway, and don't power-mow your lawn before picking. A plant scientist told me that dandelions pick up and hold the lead from exhaust frames, and you don't want lead in your wine. Don't use a galvanizes bucket to make it either.
All you want for wine is flowers, no stems, no leaves. Purists say you even have to remove the petals from the flower heads, but I don't usually go that far.
When you get a gallon, rinse them and put them into a two-gallon, wide-topped container. A crook is fine, but a plastic pail will do.
Pour a gallon of boiling water over the flowers, mix them up and cover the container with a clean dishtowel. Put it some-where warm and out of the way for three to five days.
Then strain the liquid into a big enamel pot, and squeeze the flowers over it. The wine smells weird at this point, but ignore it if you can, and go on. The odor goes away in a couple of hours.
Add 3 1/2 ounces of candied ginger and the juice and the rind of three oranges and two lemons. Scrub the rinds well, because unless you use organic oranges, they're going to have fungicide on them. That's not good for your health, and it might keep the yeast from working in your dandelion wine.
Add three pounds of sugar and put the pot on the stove. Boil gently 20 minutes and put the wine back into the clean crock. Cool lukewarm, spread half a cake of yeast on a piece of toasted rye bread and float it on top.
Cover the wine and put it in a warm place for six days. Strain off the liquid and put it into a clean, one-gallon jug. Stop it with cotton, a ballon or a wine airlock. Keep the wine in a dark place for a month and feed it rock candy twice a week to keep it fermenting. When the volume goes down, I usually fill the bottle with white wine or brandy. Vinegar bacteria can work only in the presence of air.
At the end of the month, siphon the wine into small bottles, leaving the dregs behind. Fill the bottles to the top and keep them in a cool place. Don't drink the wine until Christmas - it needs to age that long. You can bring it out in December for holiday treat as special as breath of spring.
In the meantime, you can try dandelion coffee. If you dig up the roots, roast them, grind them and mix them half-and-half with coffee, you'll have something very close to the expensive New Orleans coffee with chicory: Dandelions and chicory are cousins.
And if you have finicky neighbors who sneer at your dandelions, let them. Dandelions are a special crop, offering spring greens, roots for coffee and flowers for wine. Use all three and you'll never have to worry about your dandelion population getting out of control. It's easy. And it's environmentally sound.