Wild Things

The first day of spring has arrived, but calendars are, after all, a human concept.  Weeks ago, the great celestial clock that slows in the autumn into long nights and abbreviated days had already begun the seasonal reset into warmth and sunlight.  A lot of things are blooming, and this includes a patch of the front yard that is now a solid mat of dandelions.

Dandelions fill serious lawn freaks with horror.  Spring is the time when even the most uninspired yard bird will get the itch to hit the garden shop at Home Depot, once more convinced that enough bags of fertilizer and grass seed will make this the Year of the Perfect Lawn.  And there is something in the rakish golden frivolity of the dandelion, with its tousled petals and ragged leaves and ethereal poofs of winged seeds, that seems specifically designed to mock that ambition.  The dandelion, in certain quarters, is seen as something out of the Book of Revelation—a sneaky floral anti-Christ deserving of the fatal exorcism rendered with the holy implements of garden spade and trowel and the sacrament of broad leaf weed killer.

This is a very nice botanical print of Taraxacum officinale, the common wild dandelion. There are, however domestic varieties.

All of that is apt to be an odd notion to anyone whose childhood self ever picked and then blew apart a dandelion fuzz.  There is something in the act of scattering parachuted dandelion seeds to the wind that belongs in that private, eternal childhood of memory in which summer evenings spent chasing fireflies are preserved along with the clear autumn day on which a ramble through a cornfield laid low by the first frost revealed the glowing orange treasure of ripe pumpkins.

Up north, in the Ray Bradbury country of Illinois, the dandelion was the first flower to show up after Easter baskets had been emptied of eggs and chocolate bunnies.  We picked our baskets full, my older sister and I, not knowing until years later that we had the essential makings of something I’ve yet to try,  dandelion wine.  The flowers, once picked, folded up by early afternoon, nevermore to open; like so many wild flowers, dandelions are ephemeral things. The flowers that open at sunrise, even if ungathered, will be closed by mid-day, as if an accidental scattering of gold coins has been retrieved by thrifty leprechauns.   At the end of the day, a small forest of globular seed heads will tower over the rosettes of shaggy leaves, awaiting the night winds that will send them on their way.

The dandelion—from the French for lion’s tooth—is not a flower for snobs or those addicted to an unchallenged orderliness.  It is a proper fleur savage (also French, for wild flower).  Quite democratic in its insistence on growing where the hell it pleases, a delight for those who appreciated verve and initiative, and a tasty fodder for assorted pollinators, including our endangered honeybee population.   The dainty, lovely, well-mannered violet (also so inexplicably loathed by grass lovers) embodies the concepts of sweet and shy. But the dandelion is a reminder that there is room and need for exuberance and enterprise and untidiness, especially in the Spring, when the world is remaking itself yet again, in the face of all fears and loses.

–LMJ 3.23.17

Dandelion Wine–a recipe found on line, author unknown, but thank you anyway.

  • 2 qts dandelion flowers
  • 3 lbs granulated sugar
  • 4 oranges
  • 1 gallon water
  • yeast and nutrient

 

This is the traditional “Midday Dandelion Wine” of old, named because the flowers must be picked at midday when they are fully open. Pick the flowers and bring into the kitchen. Set one gallon of water to boil. While it heats up to a boil, remove as much of the green material from the flower heads as possible (the original recipe calls for two quarts of petals only, but this will work as long as you end up with two quarts of prepared flowers). Pour the boiling water over the flowers, cover with cloth, and leave to steep for two days. Do not exceed two days. Pour the mixture back into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the peelings from the four oranges (again, no white pith) and boil for ten minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth or bag onto a crock or plastic pail containing the sugar, stirring to dissolve. When cool, add the juice of the oranges, the yeast and yeast nutrient. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel, fit fermentation trap, and allow to ferment completely. Rack and bottle when wine clears and again when no more lees form for 60 days. Allow it to age six months in the bottle before tasting, but a year will improve it vastly. This wine has less body than the first recipe produces, but every bit as much flavor (some say more!).

 

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