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May Flowers 2015
05/01/15

We started with the Crocus, then the Daffodil, followed by the Tulip. After that, it is usually May. The ground has warmed up and life is wiggling and crawling and flying in the sunshine. The next natural flowers are small and less showy than the April bloomers. In the photo, you still see a lone daffodil that, like me, was a late bloomer and is still around after most of the others have died off, leaving only their leaves to feed the bulb for growth next year. But all around it are the purple violets that will cover the ground for most of the month of May before they, too, die off and leave only their leafy greens behind. In the background, you see a yellow Dandelion, that should also be everywhere in East Orange, whether it is wanted or not. Collect the yellow blossoms and get ready to make Dandelion wine! Separate the yellow flowers from all the green parts underneath that taste bitter! You'll need to fill a large pot full of the yellow dandelion flowers to make a gallon of wine.

Some recipes: http://www.twineagles.org/dandelion-wine-recipe.html

Dandelion wine and Dandelion cookies! http://commonsensehome.com/fields-of-gold-its-dandelion-time/

I started my Dandelion Hunt by making an adjustment to my 2013 Cherry Picker, which I won't need for a few more weeks yet.

The newly renamed Dandelion Picker is attached to a much shorter pole, 36 inches long, using gaffer's tape or duct tape. Presto, it's ready!

It's the same as picking cherries, except dandelions grow much closer to the ground and there is no need for them to travel through the PVC pipe to a bag (although you could do it that way if you wished!).

Just walk along and scoop up the dandelion heads. The stems aren't needed, just the yellow flowers. You can put them in a shopping bag or a plastic collection pot. Best time is early morning, and keep the dandelion flowers cool until you are ready to pluck them.

My basic equipment is shown above. A collection pot - Dollar Store; a glass teakettle for boiling water and making a "tea" from the flowers, the picker so you don't have to bend over to collect the flowers, and a glass jug or wine bottle for measuring the water and collecting the wine.

Your basic dandelion flower has two parts - the yellow petals and the green sepals that hold the petals together. Your job now is to separate the two. The green leaves are bitter and you don't want them in your wine.

Decide which will be your green hand and which will be your yellow hand. They will actually turn those colors by the time you finish! With the green hand, pinch the center of the sepal, breaking it open and spread it apart with your thumb. With your yellow hand, gently pull the petals into your palm, sort of like plucking a chicken but without the squawking. Just fluff them out and drop into a collector bowl. Make sure you don't mix in any green parts, and watch out for ants which love to travel in the dandelion heads. Collect the green parts separately and dump them into your compost along with any ants still foolish enough to be hanging around.

The yellow petals can be dropped into the glass teakettle (which can have some cold water in it). When the teakettle is filled with as many petals as you can stuff inside, pour boiling water in on top of the petals to make your dandelion "tea." I like to simmer the mixture, but be careful it doesn't start boiling up and out of the kettle! When it's cool to the touch, cover the kettle with the little plastic top, or put a clean sock, paper coffee filter or cloth over the top and fasten it with a rubber band. It will steep for three days.

My teakettle top is covered with a paper coffee filter, held in place with a rubber band.

 

Time to go shopping for two oranges, one lemon, a box of raisins, and at least two pounds of sugar. There's no rush. The tea steeps for three days and the wine won't be ready until around Thanksgiving or Christmas. You'll also need some wine yeast (not the same as bread yeast!).

Three days later, the Dandelion "tea" is poured right through the coffee filter and into the clean and sterile bottle that will be its permanent "home." You may have to punch a tiny hole in the paper filter towards the handle side, so that air can get in to push out all the fluid.

I've been shopping and have all the ingredients needed to finish brewing the Dandelion Wine. Note that the bottle is not as full as when I started, but I can always add a bottle of spring water to fill it up at the end.

I tried a couple of tools for grating the "zest" or flavorful skin from the oranges and lemon. A regular paring knife can be used, but you get large chunks. The best tool turned out to be my Dollar Store cheese grater, and I got to use the tiny holes side which I never use for grating cheese. For fast work, however, use the same large holes that you use for grating cheese and you'll be done a lot sooner.

The "zest" gratings go right into the tea kettle with about a cup or two of the Dandelion "tea". Let that come to a boil and simmer for about ten minutes. Then cool it down, put on a new coffee filter top and pour the "zest tea" back into the original bottle.

Pour the latest "tea" from the bottle back into the glass tea kettle. Add three cups of sugar (more for sweeter wine, less for a drier wine). Bring the teakettle to a boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved into the tea. When the liquid is clear and there is no sign of grains of sugar floating about, it's time to add the fruit, which should be all sliced and ready.

The slices of fruit (oranges and lemon) get dropped into the teakettle on top of the sweetened tea. Add the raisins. I used a couple of handfuls. Stir it around and when the kettle is cool enough to touch, put on a new coffee filter and rubber band top. Put the top back on the bottle of leftover dandelion tea mix. This will get added later.

When the teakettle is just pleasantly warm to the touch (not hot), remove the coffee filter top and add the packet of yeast. Stir it around and mash the fruit up a bit (it will be soft by then). Make a new paper coffee filter top for the tea kettle and this time put it aside for as long as it takes to ferment (two to six days is usual). If gas pressure builds up in the teakettle, you can poke a hole in the filter with a pin to let out the excess gas. Open up the bottle when you check on the teakettle, just to make sure gas is not building up inside it.

When you think the fermentation phase has stopped, remove the coffee filter from the tea kettle and mash up the fruit some more. Pick out the large pieces of fruit with a fork, shake off the liquid back into the tea, and add the pieces to your garden compost. Make a new paper coffee filter top for the teakettle and pour the remaining liquid through the filter back into the bottle. It should start to smell like wine! Don't be concerned if the wine is cloudy at this stage. It still has to be filtered again. Wash out the tea kettle and then pour all the cloudy Dandelion wine liquid into the tea kettle. Put on one last paper coffee filter top. Wash and rinse the wine bottle. Scald it if it makes you feel better. Then pour the final Dandelion Wine from the teakettle, through the filter, and into the wine bottle or jug. Now it should look like orange juice. Add spring water to bring the level of wine almost to the top of the bottle.

You can buy a fancy airlock from a wine-making supply house or Amazon.com, but I enjoy watching my balloon bottle top inflate. A balloon from the dollar store is snapped over the top of the bottle and as gas continues to be produced by the yeast, the balloon will inflate on top of the bottle. Snap it off and let the gas out every day. Eventually the balloon will no longer inflate and the bottle is ready to be corked or sealed and aged. Set a date on your calendar (Thanksgiving to Christmas is just about right) and put the bottle away in a cool dark location for aging. Bring some wine to all the neighbors who contributed dandelions to your wine.

Jim Gerrish

12/24/15 Christmas Dandelion

We broke open the bottle of dandelion wine on Thanksgiving. It was, and still is delicious! But I thought we'd have to wait until next Spring for the dandelions to return so we could make a new batch of wine for 2016. Surprise! Because of the warm December weather we are having, some of my garden flowers are refusing to die, and in the front yard, next to the Christmas decorations, a dandelion has decided to flower (it's in the background, but you can see it in the foreground within the inset). So Merry Christmas to one and all, God Bless us, every one!

12/25/15 Christmas Day

There was enough dandelion wine for all the adults at our home Christmas Party to just taste it, or have a glass if they liked it (most did!). I had been singing Christmas carols at the party and my voice was hoarse and scratchy, but the dandelion wine was soothing and I was able to sing a few more carols afterwards, so it definitely has some medicinal value to a singer. I painted a dandelion on my glass using stain glass paints, just in case you wondered what that big green and yellow thing is doing in my drink!

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