Whine about Dandelions
For most people the dandelion is a pest in the lawn. It’s a deep-rooted bastard that refuses to be budged. So we poison it to rid the unsightly yellow bloom from our precious green space.
But dandelions are good for you… look;
Dandelion wine making is an important part of the home-brewer’s calendar, and it’s a wonderful drink. Although the flowers can make an appearance at any time of the year, 99% of them bloom in a flamboyant spring flush which runs from the end of March to the beginning of May.
Roadsides and fields, hedgerows and untended lawns turn golden and a single field may blossom with a million flowers – one of the greatest, but least appreciated, sights in the countryside. Even close-up it is a beautiful flower – if it smelled of sweet pea or roses we would fill our houses with them. But then if it were a fragrant flower it would not make the splendid wine it does.
I sometimes make a syrup from the petals to use instead of plain sugar in cakes or to pour over crepes and here you can detect the dandelion’s special flavour – barley sugar. If you have ever eaten a dandelion leaf or tasted the white sap of the stem you will know how bitter this plant is. The flower too is bitter but this imparts a pleasant astringency to the wine. Incidentally if you would like to eat the leaves in a salad, upturn a flower pot over a likely looking plant to blanch the new growth of leaves.
You may have noticed that dandelions are variable in appearance. This is because the dandelion is really a species-complex with over two hundred micro-species in this country alone. We have come across this before with the blackberry which has even more micro-species. They all reproduce without sex by a process called apomixes – they are clones.
As with any flower destined for the kitchen, the dandelion should be picked in full sun and preferably in the morning. Dandelions shut up shop for the night by closing their petals and will even do this after being picked, so you will need to start your wine the very moment you get home. At least the flowers are easy to pick (more than can be said for gorse flowers) and the gallon of blossoms needed can be collected in 20 minutes. I normally use just the petals, though there is no pressing reason not to use the whole flower – it just adds a little more tang – though you will need a little less than a gallon if you do. Hold each flower by the calyx (the green bit below the petals) and snip off the petals with scissors into a clean fermenting bucket, not worrying about getting green bits in the mix from time to time. The recipe itself is pretty standard fare and very easy, producing a rich, strong, medium sweet wine.
The petals from enough complete dandelion flowers to loosely fill a gallon container
4.5 litres of water
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
500g raisins, chopped or squashed by putting in a carrier bag and pounding, or 200ml can of white grape juice concentrate
1 sachet of white wine yeast
Boil the water and pour over the petals. Cover and leave for a couple of days, stirring occasionally.
Pour everything into a large saucepan and add the lemon zest, bring to the boil then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Continue to boil for five minutes. Take off the heat and add the lemon juice and the crushed raisins or grape juice concentrate.
Clean the fermenting bucket thoroughly using a campden tablet, pour in the mix and cover until cool. Add the yeast and yeast nutrient and cover. Ferment for three or four days then transfer into a demijohn using a sterilised sieve and funnel. Fit a bubble trap and allow to ferment for a couple of months, rack-off into a fresh demijohn and leave until clear then bottle. Ray Bradbury would be proud.
Source: The Guardian