By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster and Kelly Wilkinson, Dandelion Wine Expert
When I was a child my family of four bonded over dandelion hunting. We plunged narrow trowels into dry earth twisting and pleading with the dandelion roots to let go. We were removing these pests from my parent’s rural yard.
Today, I’m uncertain why. If you think about it they have cheery yellow faces and whimsical wishing poofs. But, I guess we’ve been cultured to think of them as unsightly.
If you’re going to remove them, why not repurpose them as food. (WARNING: Only use those from yards NOT treated with chemicals.) Young greens are good in salad or sautéed like spinach. Flowers are nutritional in baked goods.
In collecting and creating I was surprised by the short season, which varies by region. Their late spring appearance in Northeast Ohio is not nearly enough to feed my culinary curiosity.
Quick before they disappear I want to share a conversation with Kelley Wilkinson from Asheville, North Carolina. Kelley writes:
I used to be a wine snob. I worked in a wine shop for a year, and was paid with wine, instead of a salary, and learned everything I could. We held weekly tastings and I even rubbed noses with Robert Parker at national events. I filled my cellar with the finest Bordeaux and California wines.
But I’ve also been a long-time organic grower and gardener.
The two things didn’t quite jive, since I knew that grape production often involves tons of toxic chemicals. Plus I have been a wild-food aficionado and herbalist for many years. So making my own organic and/or wild alcohol seemed inevitable. I was a bit nervous to begin the journey, since I have been cursed with a good palette. (I KNOW when I’m drinking awful wine.)
So when I made my first batch, I was not expecting much, to be honest. The amazing outcome for me was that the Dandelion wine I made was so superior to much of the world’s ‘finest’ wine, that it actually left me speechless.
In the wine world, we talk about floral notes. As you can imagine, no wine I’ve ever tasted has had the kind of floral notes that come through in a great batch of dandelion wine. Literally takes your breath away. The nose on it is astounding. And of course, bowing to the wisdom of our ancestors, knowing that what you are drinking is a lovely medicinal, its impossible not to fall in love.
At this point my husband and I make nearly all of our own alcohol, from mead to hard cider, and have found the process so simple and rewarding, we rarely buy alcohol any more.
Do I miss that ’89 Haut Brion anymore? Actually I still have several cases in my cellar (which, by the way, is now mostly filled with dried herbs, medicinals, and food storages). But I find myself reaching for the home brew instead.
* * *
Here Kelley shares her basic recipe for dandelion wine. Note, I have not tried it, but Kelley has plenty of experience.
THE HARVEST … Pick open blossoms early in the day, and plan on processing them and beginning the wine that very day. Blossoms quickly run to seed, and if you wait a day, you will find they have begun the change with the white chaff appearing, and most of the delicate flavor gone.
When you get home, the tedious process of separating the petals from the green parts begins, and is very important in flavor. A strawberry huller can be useful in this task. The green parts are quite medicinal, and can be dehydrated for a nice bitter. But if you leave too much with the petals, that same bitterness will be imparted to your lovely delicate floral wine.
THE EQUIPMENT (available at brewing supply companies)
- Glass Carboys
- White wine yeast, such as montrachet, reisling, even champagne yeast.
- Bottles (You can save wine bottles to reuse or buy them from them)
I am a good fermenter, and since I am not commercially producing my wine for other people’s enjoyment, I don’t rely on gadgets. Many winemakers also cook their juices and fruits before making wine, which I don’t do. I believe many of the health-giving properties from the ingredients used are present in the raw form and are destroyed in the cooked form, so I choose not to. For those who have an aversion to things that are not sterile, they may mix all of the ingredients together with the dandelion flower tea which has sat for several days, (except for the yeast!), bring it to a boil for 30 minutes, wait for it to come back to room temperature, then add the yeast and put it all in the carboy.
THE DANDELION WINE RECIPE
- Approx. 1 gallon dandelion blooms
- 1 gallon water (spring or filtered)
- 2 pounds organic golden raisins (sultana is a great choice)
- 2 pounds raw sugar, or 3 (12 oz) containers of organic frozen white grape juice concentrate, or a mix of both.
- 2 organic lemons
- 3 organic oranges
- 1 packet wine yeast
- Pick the blooms mid to late-morning on a sunny day when they are wide open. Remove petals from the bitter green base. Immediately move to the next step.
- Peel the citrus, and remove as much white pith as you can (pith will add too much bitterness), then slice the remaining peels thinly. Return the fruit to the cooler. You will need these later.
- Add petals and citrus peels to a large container, preferably glass, ceramic, or stainless steel. I usually use a large pot. Heat the water to boiling. Then pour over the mixture. You are, in essence, making an infusion here. Allow to rest for 2-3 days, stirring occasionally.
- Strain the mixture through cheesecloth to get every luscious drop.
- Add sugar or grape concentrate to the infusion.. Stir well until dissolved.
- Add remaining ingredients.
- Funnel everything into a glass carboy, with an airlock, and let it sit for approximately 3 weeks.
- Strain into a secondary cleaned carboy and leave all the sediment/fruit behind.
- This can sit 2 to 3 months before bottling. The important thing is to make sure bubbling has ceased.. If there is a lot of sediment you can siphon it into the original clean carboy and wait a few more months. When it is clear it is time to bottle.
- Make sure your bottles are clean. I run them through a very hot dishwasher and let them dry.
- Siphon your wine into the bottles, then cork them.
Although you can drink this immediately, you will be surprised how the flavor improves with cellaring. I have let it cellar for years and it continues to develop a depth of flavor.