by JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Some people see a field of dandelions as a nuisance, a yellow smear on a perfect landscape of green. Others see the welcome of spring and bright cheerful faces of sun. But only a few see the possibilities of spring history and tradition — dandelion wine and salad.
Molly Robinson, 54, of Bluefield, W.Va., said an older gentleman took one sip of her homemade dandelion wine and instantly named it sweet yellow moonshine.
“It is very sweet wine, but very strong,” said Robinson. “It is about 20 to 22 percent alcohol.”
Every April and May, Robinson grabs a bucket or a pail and picks gallons of dandelions. She recruits members of her family, grandchildren included, to help with the process.
The family tradition began five years, she said. Robinson was outside with her mother Red Sexton. They were plowing the garden and the whole field near the house was filled with yellow dandelions.
“I told my mom I had always wanted to try and make dandelion wine,” Robinson said.
To her surprise, her mother laughed and told her where she could find a recipe.
“She had my Grandmother Cameron’s recipe,” Robinson said. “She was from Rhode Island.”
She only made one gallon the first year; the ingredients were dandelions, sugar, warm water and a package of dry yeast. She had to borrow a stone crock, but said the wine was simple to make, but required a lot of patience. Robinson’s recipe requires pouring one quart of boiling water over three quarts of blooms and letting them soak in a cheesecloth-covered stone crock for about three days. That is the first step. After that, Robinson strains the blossoms three times through cheesecloth to remove the debris out of the juice. Then heats one quart of water in a large pot and adds sugar until it melts. Add the sugar water to the juice and stir well.
“When the mixture cools to warm, slowly add the yeast and stir well,” she said. “Place in a carboy and let sit for six weeks.”
Robinson has tips for a homemade carboy using a three gallon water jug with a small hole in the lid to feed the fish tank airline tubing through.
“Fill with the dandelion mixture, seal the top so air cannot get in or out except through the tubing. Do not let the tubing touch the dandelion mixture. Put the exposed end of the tubing into a milk jug with water. Put the end of the tubing into the water. This allows the carbon gases to escape while protecting your mixture from bacteria in the air,” she explained.
Once bottled, let the wine sit for six months.
“The longer you wait, the clearer and prettier it becomes. I have some that is 18 months old,” she said.
One batch costs around $5, she said.
Robinson gives a lot of dandelion wine to friends and family; she prefers peach, strawberry or cranberry wine. But dandelion wine is now a family tradition.
“I have some friends who love it. I make about 10-15 bottles for specific friends. It is just a hobby and you give it away.”
Dandelion wine is an acquired taste, she added.
When Princeton resident Barbara Tilley, 76, was a child growing up in McDowell County, her mother would make a salad out of dandelion greens.
“They would mix them up with other wild greens,” Tilley said. “They would cook them and take them out and put hot grease on top. You really couldn’t tell what was the dandelion and what wasn’t.”
Her mother would also coat the greens in cooking oil as well.
Tilley remembers how the dandelions would take over the yard, but during the Great Depression, many families would use the greens in salad. She recalls seeing people pick their greens on a hillside in the Leckie community.
Tilley ate the salad when it came time for dinner.
“We just sat down and ate what was on the table. We didn’t complain about anything we ate,” she said.
Many recipes for dandelion salads include red onions, tomatoes, dried basil, salt and pepper with hot bacon grease dressing. According to Fruit and Veggies More Matters’ website, dandelion greens are full of vitamin A, C and a good source of fiber, calcium manganese, iron and vitamins B1, B2 and B6. Choose greens that are crisp, upright and not wilted. The website states that the greens have a peppery flavor.