Monday, April 20, 2009

A Dandy Time in the Neighborhood


Picking dandelions early Saturday morning in your front yard is the sort of civic activity that gets you noticed. Joggers huff and puff down the sidewalk and momentarily crane sweaty necks to see what you're up to. Neighbors walking dogs stop to talk in a disguised attempt to figure out what the hell you're doing now, all the while wondering, Is he finally getting ready to mow his freakin' junkshow of a lawn? Baby-strollers hurry past—that's where those crazy people live...

Actually, in all honesty my neighbor Mike, a scientist getting ready to head off to the Arctic for three weeks to continue studying our doom, wandered over with Daisy (the poodle) to see what my daughter was shrieking about. (She'd found a slug.) Mike even plucked a dandy for me and gave it an expert twist to release the golden petals. He's fairly forgiving of our lack of lawnmowing. Looking at our neighbor's lawn and then ours, he said, "I always figured that was the fairway and this was the rough." Rough is right. When I suggested there was something disturbing about the mania for weeding one of the most nutritious plants on the planet, he warily agreed (he's a climate scientist after all!). People are crazy.

Then I paused for a while to watch a spotted towhee singing in the top of our hawthhorn tree. He's a randy towhee for sure, and I hope he sticks around to raise a brood.

Anyway, the correct way to harvest dandelion petals is to pick them in the morning while they're still closed and twist the petals away from the rest of the green flower head. A robust crop of flowers can give you a couple cups' worth of petals in no time. Just watch out for any unwanted hitchhikers.

It's peak dandelion petal time in Seattle. This is the time of year I make Dandy Bread, a favorite of the kids. After reading Molly (Orangette) Wizenberg's wonderful new book, A Homemade Life, I took her advice and bought a simple oven thermometer that hangs from the rack. Loe and behold: Our oven was off by a cool 25 degrees! But I don't think this is why my recipe posted last year (based on a Peter Gail recipe) seems to be a little too moist, so I've edited the original to a "scant 1 1/2 cups milk." In other words, not quite a cup and a half. Otherwise it's still easy and delicious, and a great way to make use of those nutrient-packed dandelion heads blooming all over town like an army of self-satisfied Cheshire cats.

24 comments:

Heather said...

In 6th grade, when we read My Side of the Mountain, my teacher had us all go out into the schoolyard to harvest dandelion blossoms, and she battered them in Bisquick and fried them up for us. They tasted like zucchini fritters. My crop (read: unkempt patch of lawn) is about ready for the pickin'.

Patricia said...

Well, darn. Last night's conversation went like this:

J: I'm going to mow. Do you need to harvest anything first?
P: Nah, the mower won't get close enough to chop off the cat's-ear.

Now come to find out I could have picked all the dandelion flowers??? That'll teach me.

Colloquial Cook said...

Langdon, you're officially my hero. Why watch out for the dandelion hitchhiker though :-) ?

LC said...

Heather - We should have such cool 6th grade teachers! Did your Dandy Fritters look anything like this?

Patricia - No worries. Those dandies come back quick.

Colloquial Cook - You're right. Next post: those delicious and nutritious banana slugs...bottoms up!

Hillary said...

What a unique bread. I have brother who is allergic to touching dandelions. I take it he shouldn't try eating this.

S said...

I'm that house on the block. Most of my hippie neighbors probably don't care, as their yards aren't all that kempt. But my next-door neighbor is a banker who mows his lawn about 3 times a week. I just know he hates having to see my, um, let's say natural yard (read: all weeds and wild flowers) every day.

It would probably send him over the edge to see me harvesting all my dandelions.

Any ideas what I could do with the big patch of wild strawberries that grow in my yard?

Kitchen Vixen said...

I've got some dandelions in the yard of my apartment building- are they safe to eat even though I have no idea if the lawn's been treated with something? Or should I hold out for my own yard? This sounds so fun and springtime-y!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

One of the best wines I have ever made was dandelion wine. I made it in Virginia with a gallon bucket's worth of dandelion petals. A TON of work, and a year's wait, but it was divine....

LC said...

Hillary - Thanks for stopping by. I'm afraid your bro is out of luck on the Dandy Menu. Sorry...

S - Hey, it's your lawn. Harvest all the weeds you want. Mr. Banker will have to deal with it. As for your strawberries, if you can harvest before the critters do, good on ya. Wild strawberries are always the first to go. Thanks for joining the conversation!

Kitchen Vixen - Welcome! Dandelions are usually a sign that herbicides aren't in use, but I'd check with your building manager just to make sure. Same thing goes for morel mushrooms found in landscaping mulch.

Hank - I hear Dandy Wine packs a serious punch (and a hangover). Thinking about making me some...

Ciao Chow Linda said...

So glad I found your blog. Now I have a place to put all those dandelion petals. I just posted something on my blog on greens I foraged from a field.

Anonymous said...

This truly is a pleasure to visit your blog. Never thought about dandelion blossoms as a way to include into baking/ foods, etc.

Thanks for your wonderful story!

Ulla said...

I love this!:)
I am so inspired by this whole blog, so wonderful!
Dandelions are my favorite flower!
They really mean spring is here!:)

PNWGal said...

I made the muffins this morning. They were very nice, light and fluffy with a good texture. I don't think I would have known that they were made with dandelions if I didn't pick them myself. The youngest ate 3 of them!

wyldthang said...

HI! I just made the bread and it came out great. I had to tweak it a little because I didn't have honey--I used a scant 1/3 white sugar, and an extra egg to compensate for lack of honey moisture(in a ballpark sort of way). It came out just like in your picture. Very faint dandelion taste. This bread recipe would be great using snipped herbs or maybe a savory version with chives and thyme? and nuts? also used a tad less milk because of the egg. thanks!

LC said...

Ciao Chow Linda - You recipe for pasta with wintercress looks scrumptious. I'm afraid I've missed the wintercress crop here, although maybe on the east side of the mountains I can find some.

Anonymous - Thanks for the visit!

PNWGal - So glad the muffins were a hit. Kids in particular love dandy bread, maybe b/c picking one of the ingredients makes it real for them.

Wyldthang - I like your ideas. Please report back if you experiment with different dandies.

maureen ryan said...

since finding your blog a few weeks back, i've been eyeballing for dandelions every time i walk my dog. i finally took the plunge today & harvested some--your bread is about to come out of the oven! [i added a T of lavender--that's rarely a bad idea]..i am only a little worried because i live in chicago, and am wondering about those 'residual chemicals' you mentioned. i foraged them from a lot near a big street with a fair amount of car traffic..should i be worried? or do its super potent nutrients cancel out the potential trace chemicals? guess i will have to see how it tastes before i decide! :D

Dia said...

Oh, yes, dandelion wine! I used to make various wines, & dandelion was one of my favorites! Took a bottle to a gathering at my sis-in law's, & one of the guests poured a big glass - I cautioned him that it was homemade, & packed a quite a kick, he agreed 'oh, yeah, grandma made dl wine . . . ' & started glugging, - pretty soon said, 'wow! That IS potent!'
Another delightful wine was pumpkin! Tastes like a nice white (of course there are raisins) - from a Brit winemaker's recipe book - & his peach really tastes like peaches! I always used honey, so rather mead like, . . .

Dia said...

Forgot to mention another favorite use for dandelions - Massage oil! Use it like Arnica, for sore muscles!! Great gift for any gardener :)

Simply pick DRY flowers, & cover with olive oil. You have to be careful they don't mold, so be sure to cover the flowers with oil, & stir daily. After a couple of weeks, I strain through a coffee filter & colander, & store in the fridge.
Liquid gold!
I also make hypericum (st John's wort) oil for nerve pain, & sometimes use a combo of the two. I'm experimenting with a bit of melted coconut oil in the jar, since that's my main massage oil these days.

Pam said...

This is wonderful! Our yard has a lovely patch of dandelions, since I won't let my husband use weed killer any more.

k said...

Thanks for this - dandelion bread is yum! I'm excited to see what else I can do with them.

Tea said...

I'm lucky my neighbor mows my tiny lawn for me or I'd be the rough spot on the block as well. Happy to report he doesn't dig up my dandelions. Now I know what to do with them--thanks!

LC said...

Sorry, I've fallen behind in responding to comments.

Maureen - Thanks for your visit. How did the bread turn out? Your question about pollutants is a good one, and I'm not sure how to answer it. I don't think dandelions behave quite like fungi, which is to say leeching contaminants out of the ground, but those long taproots do come into contact with a lot of...stuff. Stuff besides all the good nutrients, I'm thinking, if you live in an urban environment. I'm no scientist but my educated guess is that breathing air in such places is probably more hazardous to your health. This is a recurring question and I'm going to try to find out some answers.

Dia - Love the massage oil idea. Thanks!

Pam - Good for you on the weed killer--and good for your hubby to heed his sensible partner. Thanks for stopping by.

K - Great, let me know what you come up with.

Tea - Thanks for the visit. You have a very neighborly neighbor! Maybe he'll pick the dandies for you before mowing...

maureen said...

thanks, LC--you make a good point about city air. can't be worse than what i'm already breathing!

the bread turned out great--lovely texture, not too sweet. lavender was an excellent addition. i'll be making this again!

Tara said...

I made the bread as a birthday breakfast treat for my daughter's second birthday. She is allergic to eggs so I substituted applesause, and I added blueberries for the something extra special called for on birthdays. Oh, I also substituted dank, dark Vermont maple syrup for the sweetener and poured with a heavy hand. It was epic. Thanks for the recipe idea!