Flowers are good. Wine is good. In between, though, it gets downright disgusting.
We’ve been waiting for dandelion season ever since our friends Dan and Linda first brought us a bottle of their dandelion wine. We were fully prepared to take a sip, smile politely, and tell them how good it was. And we did tell them how good it was, but politeness wasn’t in it. The stuff really was good.
When the dandelions began to bloom this spring, I kept my eyes open for a good spot for picking. “Good,” in this case, means dense with dandelions, away from heavy car traffic, and not on the front lawn of anyone with a shotgun and a short temper.
I found the perfect field on an Audobon preserve in Cummaquid, a town a few miles east of us, and Kevin and I went out last week and snipped off two gallons of dandelion flowers. For the record, two gallons is a lot of dandelion flowers. Dandelions have the chutzpah to grow close to the ground, and harvesting them means a lot of stooping, bending, and squatting. Dandelion wine is not for the faint of back.
We took our haul home, and left the flowers outside to give the insects a chance to escape. Then we started the wine-making process.
There are many recipes for dandelion wine, but most of them are similar. You steep the flowers in water for a few days, then drain them and bring the liquid to a boil with sugar, citrus juice, and other coloring and flavoring agents. Cool it down and add yeast. Let it ferment, and then age. Different recipes call for different quantities and timing, but that’s the basic process.
Dan and Linda used Euell Gibbons’ recipe, and we’re following suit. We boiled two gallons of water and poured it over our two gallons of dandelion flowers, and left it to steep. If you’ve never seen dandelions steeped in water for a few days, I’m here to tell you that they’re not appetizing. They’re gray and water-logged, and they smell like lettuce that’s been in the fridge too long.
I can believe that this vegetal soup turns into wine, but only because it’s happened million, billions, gazillions of times over the course of wine-making history. Kevin is less sanguine.
It’s hard to picture the first couple who tried this. I imagine them peering skeptically at the soggy, smelly mess in their crock. When he says, “That doesn’t smell very good,” she doesn’t have the option of saying, “It worked for Dan and Linda.”