Mellow Yellow: How to Make Dandelion Wine

Today on Root Simple we welcome another guest post from our Midwest correspondent Nancy Klehm:

In the past week, we Midwesterners have experienced three hard frosts – killing back the growth, that emerged too early of my grapes and hardy kiwis and zapping peach blossoms. We will see if there is any fruit onset and if my vines recover.

Meanwhile, it is dandelion wine time!

I first tasted dandelion wine when I bought a bottle of it at a folksy gift shop in the Amana Colonies (yes, Amana of the appliance fame). I had wanted something to drink at my campsite that evening. When I opened the bottle, I anticipated something more magic than what met my tongue. It was cloying yellow syrupy stuff, which resembled soft drink concentrate. I poured it out next to my tent, returning it to the earth where she could compost it. I was sure that I’d never get close to it again.

That was fifteen years ago, and now I have been drinking dandelion wine for about two years. The new stuff is stuff I’ve made myself from dandelion blossoms gathered in Chicago. I’m happy to say that it is divine. I am sure now that the colonists actually keep the good stuff in their private cabinets.

Upon mentioning “dandelion wine”, Ray Bradbury usually comes to mind. However, after I heard a radio interview with him a few years back when he passionately made a case to colonize the moon so we can ditch this trashed planet and survive as a race, I got confused. Enough said.

So the point is, I am going to tell you how to make dandelion wine. I encourage you to do this because dandelions pop up everywhere and every place. They are nearly ubiquitous pioneers in our landscapes of disturbed and deprived soils. Consumed, they are a magnificent digestive, aiding the heath and cleansing of the kidneys and liver. Amongst vitamins A, B, C and D, they have a huge amount of potassium.

As a beyond-perfect diuretic, dandelion has so much potassium that when you digest the plant, no matter how much fluid you lose, your body actually experiences a net gain of the nutrient. In other words, folks – dandelion wine is one alcohol that actually helps your liver and kidneys! Generous, sweet, overlooked dandelion…

When you notice lawns and parks spotting yellow, it’s time to gather. The general rule of thumb is to collect one gallon of flowers for each gallon of wine you want to make.

Enjoy your wandering. People will think you quaintly eccentric for foraging blossoms on your hands and knees. Note: collect blossoms (without the stem) that have just opened and are out of the path of insecticides and pesticides.

So here’s how I make dandelion wine…

I pour one gallon boiling water over one gallon dandelion flowers in a large bowl. When the blossoms rise (wait about twenty-four to forty-eight hours), I strain the yellow liquid out, squeezing the remaining liquid out of the flowers, into a larger ceramic or glass bowl. I compost the spent flowers (thanks dandelion!).

Then I add juice and zest from four lemons and four oranges, and four pounds of sugar (4-4-4 = E.Z.). Okay, now here’s what I think is the best part: I float a piece of stale bread, sprinkled with bread yeast, in the mixture. This technique is used in Appalachian and some European recipes.

Then I toss a dishtowel over it so the mixture can both breathe and the crud floating around my house stays out. I continue stirring the wine several times a day until it stops fermenting. This takes about two weeks or so.

When I am certain it has stopped “working”, I strain, bottle and cork it up and bid it farewell until months later. In fact I wait until the winter solstice, when I can revisit that sunny spring day by drinking it in.

Introducing the Dehydrated Kimchi Chip

Our focus this week has been all things Japanese, but now we’re taking a detour to Korea…or at least to kimchi:

What would be the fermentation equivalent of finding a new planet in our solar system, cold fusion and a unified field theory all wrapped into one new discovery? That tasty snack breakthrough could very well be the dehydrated kimchi chip. Oghee Choe and Connie Choe-Harikul of Granny Choe’s Kimchi Co.’s just won the Good Food Day LA cabbage cooking contest with their kimchi chip over the weekend. I got to taste one of those kimchi chips and I can say that they deserved the award.

Why make a kimchi chip? In a press release Harikul says, “We always have loads of kimchi at home, on account of the family business, so we started dehydrating our original spicy kimchi to halt fermentation when a batch was about to turn overripe.”

How do you make kimchi chips at home? It’s simple, according to Harikul, “We use an American Harvest Snackmaster dehydrator that was given to us by a fellow Freecycler. Lay the kimchi out on two trays and dry it on high for 12 hours. Easy peasy.”

Harikul and Choe have some suggestions for cooking with kimchi on their website. And they were nice enough to give us a recipe for kimchi that we included in our book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

Some Thoughts on Mead

I’ve had mixed success with making my own mead. One batch I made was OK and a few others tasted, as Mrs. Root Simple put it, “like a desperate white wine substitute for a zombie apocalypse.” Last year I attended a mead tasting put on by America’s first homebrew club the Maltose Falcons. Somehow I neglected to blog about it, so better late than never, here’s what I learned:

  • If you want decent mead you have to brew it yourself. We tasted a lot of homebrew meads along with commercial meads.  Many of the homebrew meads were excellent. All of the commercial meads tasted like camping fuel. I was, frankly, surprised that anyone would go to the trouble of labeling, distributing and selling some of the awful store bought meads we tasted. I tried yet another horrible commercial mead at the natural foods convention I blogged about on Monday.
  • In my opinion, the best homebrew meads at the tasting were carbonated. The carbonation helps accent the aroma of the honey that can sometime get lost in a flat mead. 
  • The best meads split the difference between dry and sweet. Too dry and you get that boring white wine taste. Too sweet and you’ve got cough syrup. Choosing the right yeast can strike that balance.
  • I’ve had good luck with a Narbonne Wine Yeast called Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast.

  • I really enjoyed the orange blossom honey based mead my friend Steve Linsley made. Perhaps I’ll prod him for the recipe and post it here one of these days.  

Have you made mead? If so, how did it go? What kind of honey did you use? Have you tried the recipe in our book Making It?

Summer Urban Homestead Failures: Exploding Beer Bottles

Somehow in last week’s roundup of the summer’s failures I blocked out of my memory the most exasperating: exploding beer bottles.

I think I may have had a contaminated siphon hose which passed on some nasty, yeasty bacterial bug to every single bottle of two batches of beer I had made this summer. Three of those bottles over-carbonated to the point that they became beer grenades and exploded. One blew up on the kitchen counter and the other two in the garage. Having had a bottle explode in my hand a few years ago (wild fermented ginger beer–a bad idea) I can tell you that bottle grenades aren’t funny.

So having had three bottles explode and all the other bottles I opened showing signs of over-carbonation, I had the dilemma of what to do next. String my bow and shoot arrows at them from a distance? Call in the homebrew bomb squad?

I decided to don a heavy jacket (in 90ºF + temperatures) and safety goggles and uncap each one in the sink. The second to last bottle gave me a cooling beer shower.

Time to clean our messy kitchen and go on a sanitation campaign.

Gadget Love: The Johnson Temperature Controller

UPDATE May 25, 2016: Eventually the copper wire on this device broke. I think a more durable version of this gadget might be this one. And the gasket on the Scandinavian fridge, sadly, proved un-repairable due to the design of the door.

A friend of mine gave me a chest freezer recently and I augmented it with a handy gizmo, a Johnson temperature controller. The temperature controller allows me to run the freezer at any temperature between 30 and 80ºF. It works by cycling on and off the power to the freezer as needed. You just stick the copper probe in the freezer and adjust the dial to the desired temperature. So far I’ve thought of the following uses:

  • Proof bread overnight at 54ºF. I used to proof my dough in my refrigerator, but the chest freezer, running at this higher temperature thanks to the temperature controller, results in a more active proofing.
  • Make lagers (which ferment at low temperatures).
  • Make ales in hot weather. The house gets too hot to make beer in the summertime. Now I can make a batch or two without having to worry about the weather.
  • Use the chest freezer as a backup when I need to repair the gasket on our Scandinavian refrigerator YET AGAIN!

Not wanting to be a profligate energy user I only use the chest freezer periodically.

Now if only I could lower the temperature of the whole house which, thanks to the first heatwave of the summer, is now warm enough to make yogurt!