Monday, June 1, 2009

From Weeds to Wine

The Backyard Homestead arrived with much fanfare at the end of March, and I was excited to read it. The book’s promise of teaching you how to produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre is an intriguing thought even if you have no intention of opting out of the grocery store. I had earlier surprised myself by ordering three laying hens to keep in my backyard, and I was curious to find what other adventures I might be motivated to try.

At the back of the book, I found it. There is a recipe for dandelion wine, purported to be one of the fine country wines of Europe, and I set my mind to make it. This spring saw a bumper crop of that pesky weed, and on Mother's Day my family and I set out to harvest them. We loaded up our canvas bags with blossoms until we thought we surely had enough. However, you need to remove the yellow flower bits from any green parts, so our yield drastically diminished, and we ended up needing to halve the recipe. We’ll still have a half-gallon of wine, which, depending on how tasty it is, may be more than we’ll ever drink!

More dandelions than we'll ever need, all free for the taking at our fingertips

Dandelions in the large bowl on the right; the separated blossoms
in the middle; the discarded green parts on the left
(though it looks like I wasn't very meticulous!)

Following is the recipe. By no means is this instant gratification. You need to wait at least 6 months before you can drink the wine, though other sources we read said that the taste dramatically improves if you wait a year. Next Mother's Day, we’ll pop the cork and clink our glasses to another new spring!

P.S. Since my ignorance knows no bounds, I thought "fresh yeast" in this recipe meant yeast that had been recently purchased. Fortunately, my husband was wise enough to discern there might be more to it than that, and he learned that fresh yeast is entirely different stuff from what you might find in your local grocery store. Packaged yeast can be used in this recipe, though; substitute three packets for the 1 ounce indicated below.

3 quarts dandelion blossoms
1 gallon water
2 oranges, with peel
1 lemon, with peel
3 pounds sugar
1 ounce fresh yeast
1 pound raisins

1. Collect blossoms when they are fully open on a sunny day. Remove any green parts; they will impair the fermentation.
2. In a large pot bring water to a boil, and pour over flowers. Cover, and let steep for 3 days.
3. Peel and juice oranges and lemon, saving peels and reserving liquid.
4. Add orange and lemon peel to flower-water mixture, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, strain out solids, then add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool.
5. Add orange and lemon juice, yeast, and raisins to liquid. Put everything into a crock with a loose lid (so gas can escape) to ferment.
6. When mixture has stopped bubbling (2 days to a week), fermentation is complete. Strain liquid through several layers of cheesecloth, and transfer to sterilized bottles. Slip a deflated balloon over top of each bottle to monitor for further fermentation. When balloon remains deflated for 24 hours, fermentation is complete. Cork bottles, and store in cool, dark place for at least 6 months before drinking.

Alethea Morrison, Storey Creative Director

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