Summer caught and stoppered. That’s how Ray Bradbury describes dandelion wine in his novel of the same name.I’ve wondered what summer tasted like ever since I read those words. And could you really “change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in?”
I still don’t know. But I will this winter. I finally made my first batch of dandelion wine. It should be ready to drink by the end of January, which will be perfect, because that’s about the time I find myself scrolling through pictures from the past summer, trying to convince myself it will come again. I would welcome a small sip of summer.
For those of us who have more experience “whining” than “wine-making,” fermenting a slurry of dandelion flowers, sugar, yeast and who knows what else can be intimidating. It’s an unfamiliar process and there are terms I don’t know: carboy, airlock, racking the wine.
But if you want dandelion wine, you’re going to have to make it. In “Dandelion Wine,” the process involves pressing the blossoms to release a yellow juice that would be combined with fresh rainwater and allowed to ferment in crocks before bottling in clean ketchup bottles.
But no one does it like that anymore. After reading dozens of recipes and watching a few videos, I decided on a recipe that uses cooled water and combines all the ingredients in one step. (Most recipes use boiling water to steep the blossoms for a few days before adding the remaining ingredients for fermentation.) It seemed simpler and I’m hoping the cooler water will be gentler on the floral flavors.
Regardless of the recipe, the first step is always picking dandelions. I gathered them from my yard, which is free of pesticides or herbicides. (Something I mandated several years ago, “just in case we wanted to eat the dandelions someday” — I feel vindicated that the day has finally come.) A few small dandelions are scattered in the grass, but several healthy stands grow in our side yard. I picked the blossoms over a week’s time during the mid-morning when they’re fully open.
Next comes the laborious part — removing the yellow flowers, often mistakenly called petals, from the green bracts. It’s impossible to keep any green from getting into the pile of yellow and white fluff, but the more green, the more bitter the final result will be. This step is where I came to appreciate my healthy dandelion plants, whose blossoms were four times the size of the smaller ones. Rinse the yellow flower parts with water before using, or freeze them if you collect your blossoms over a period of time.
Some people have workable brewing supplies, but I had to purchase around $30 worth of materials before I could begin. I found a good collection of home brewing equipment at Riverport Brewery in Clarkston, where I bought flip top brewing bottles for long term storage. I bought a wide-mouth 1-gallon fermentation jar with an airlock online.
With this stuff fermenting in my basement, I have something to look forward this winter. Will it be any good? You can come on over to see for yourself or share your own version — I’d welcome any recipes, suggestions or stories.
(1-3 hours, plus 3 or more weeks for fermenting)
Serving size: 1 gallon
3 quarts water, distilled if possible
3 pounds sugar
1 quart dandelion blossoms, trimmed from the bracts
3 organic oranges, zested and juiced
2 organic lemons, zested and juiced
1 package white wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
Bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
Place dandelion flowers, yeast nutrient, citrus juice and zest into a one-gallon fermentation vessel and pour sugar water over top. The citrus provides necessary acid in the mixture, and the yeast nutrient supplements the sugar to feed the yeast. (Around a pound of raisins can be used instead of yeast nutrient, but it will change the flavor and appearance of the wine.)
Dissolve white wine yeast in a half cup of room-temperature water. Let it hydrate for 10 minutes before pouring into the water mixture. Add extra water if needed to fill the vessel up, leaving around an inch of headspace. Cap with an airlock.
Ferment the mixture for three weeks or until fermentation has stopped. Then siphon the wine into a clean container, leaving the flower, citrus bits and yeast sediment behind. Bottle and cork the wine. Allow it to age, ideally six months or longer, before drinking.
(Recipe adapted from practicalselfreliance.com)