Thursday, 5 May 2011

Dandelion Wine

What do I have in common with Ray Bradbury? A love of the fantastic, good stories, science fiction and dandelion wine. Since my late teens when I read Bradbury’s biographical fantasy, “Dandelion Wine”, I always wanted to taste the stuff. Then one dark winter evening, Charles ladled out a glass for me, from a large tub in his kitchen. I became addicted.

Depending on its maturity dandelion wine can be tart, or sweet, contains a distillation of warm May garden scents. Above all it gladdens the heart. Guaranteed to lift you out of a dark place, it’s perfect for the Scottish winters when everyone is hunkered down a bit. Drink it with friends, and you’ll all turn silly in short order. For some reason the jokes you tell make sense while drinking the wine, but not afterwards.

And so to our annual carpet of dandelions, not an infestation as many gardeners would say, but one of nature’s unasked for gifts. Yesterday Charles came over with the kids and we gathered a couple of buckets of the flowers. They have to be picked around noon on a warm and sunny day when the flowers are fully open. Preferring a sweeter wine I pick only the petals. Not too much of the green calyx. The recipe calls for a minimum of two quarts of petals.

1. Pour a gallon of hot water over two quarts of petals (the minimum quantity). Let it stand for two days. Not for longer because the mix can turn sour.

2. Add the zest from four oranges. Boil the mix for a couple of minutes. After it has cooled, strain through cheesecloth. The finer it is the clearer your wine will be.

3. Add 2-3 pounds of sugar. While waiting for it to dissolve, drink a glass from last year's batch. The more sugar the stronger the wine. Add the strained juice from the oranges. Add dissolved yeast. I usually use baker’s yeast that has the fewest additives.

4. Place in a fermenting jar --- ceramic, glass or a special plastic that doesn’t add a taste to the wine. Attach an air lock, and watch it ferment for 2-4 months. The bubbling will keep you entertained most of the summer.

5. When the mix has almost stopped bubbling. Siphon the clear liquid to another container, leaving behind the dregs. Let it sit and bubble some more. Once it has finished, siphon the liquid off again. Let it sit. Finally siphon into clean, sterilized wine bottles. I usually use ones with screw caps so as not to hassle with corks.

Finally, let the wine mature. Charles reckons that three year wine is highly valued. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never been able to hold onto it for that long. Besides our guests keep demanding to drink it. This year I’ve resolved to stash away a few bottles.

And forget where I put them.