Friday, March 5, 2010

In Anticipation of Spring-Dandelion Wine

The check out bagger said his uncle’s wine tasted like sunshine. Was it sweet? Yes, but not too much. And yellow? Ah yes, a beautiful color. It sure packed a wallop too. With that, the corners of his mouth formed a dreamy smile, and his eyes glistened a bit.

It sounded like a lovely Christmas gift for family. And if Katie Luther was known for her good beer, why couldn’t a Presbyterian try her hand at wine? So, this last spring I picked all the yellow heads from our own fine crop of dandelions. It came to about a quart. The internet yielded a ton of recipes. All but two called for a gallon of heads. That eliminated most. Many required expensive equipment too. Well not now. People made dandelion wine long before speciality yeasts and special containers. So I went with an older “family” method calling for a crock and combined it with the recipes using fewer heads. A scrubbed gallon pickle jar, swished in bleach water before rinsing, seemed to fill the bill. When all was said and done it wasn’t quite large enough, so I borrowed another large jar and divided the “must” among the two.

For several weeks the concoction bubbled and frothed. Every day I stirred it down. The smell was reminiscent of friendship bread. However it was an ugly, brownish green color. Not at all yellow. There was too much of an investment to toss it though, and since it didn’t actually smell unpleasant, I persevered. Finally it stopped fermenting. The recipe said to let it sit for a day to make sure, then filter all the solids out. It was still cloudy, not at all attractive, and took quite a few days until the sludgy stuff fell to the bottom. Finally a clearer yellow appeared on top. Now we were getting somewhere. I siphoned it off between settlings a couple times, until only the good stuff remained. One little over zealous suck got an accidental mouthful. Whoa! It did have a kick.

With all the excitement, I’d forgotten the bottles. I cleared the fridge of chili sauce, soy sauce, even olive oil and a couple other oddball containers. Any glass bottle with a screw on lid was washed up and enlisted for the cause. The final product tasted a bit herbal, like sweet vermouth, with the lovely golden yellow of liquid sunshine. It’s supposed to be better if you age it six months to a year. Maybe next time I’ll find out.

Here’s the adapted recipe.
Pick fully-open, fresh, yellow dandelions heads (no stems) on a sunny day. Remove the green base, (called the ‘receptacle’, now we know), from about half of them leaving only the yellow petals. Boil a quart of blossoms in a gallon of water in a large pot for thirty minutes. Strain out the flowers through a cloth lined colander, pouring the liquid into a large, clean gallon jar. Once that cools, return it to the scrubbed pot and add one tablespoon of dried yeast, (I happen to have rapid rise), six cups of sugar, a box of raisons, one orange and one lemon, both chopped fine with the peels on. Stir to dissolve the sugar and yeast. Ladle the whole shebang evenly between two sterilized gallon jars, or into one larger jar if you have it. (You’ll need bubbling room.) Cover loosely with the lids. Every day stir the concoction down and re-cover. It will continue fermenting for about two weeks. Once it stops, strain the solids out, pouring the liquid back into the jars. Wait until it settles. Carefully siphon the clear wine off the top into sterilized bottles, leaving the sludge behind. (I used new plastic tubing made for fish tank filters.) This took several passes until the wine was totally transparent. Once bottled, close the lids tightly, wrap circles of saran wrap over the caps and upper bottle neck, to keep the air out, and cover those with circles of aluminum foil, for aesthetics. Attach homemade labels and they’re ready for gift giving.

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