Dandelion Wine

By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery

Here are a few tips to make a batch of this spring delicacy.

We all know that when life gives us lemons we should make lemonade, but did you know that when life gives us weeds, we should make dandelion wine?

Of course, you can always order a bottle online, just make sure you don’t accidentally purchase the 1957 Ray Bradbury novel by the same name. Homemade dandelion wine is surprisingly delicious, so as spring approaches and the dandelions start popping up, consider making a batch of homemade dandelion wine.

While many of us see dandelions as a yellow blight in our neighborhoods, they were, in fact, purposely brought to the United States from Europe in the mid-1600s. Today, they are still celebrated with Dandelion Festivals occurring across the country from Napa Valley, California, to Vineland, New Jersey.

Dandelions are used in Amish, French, Greek, Italian and Polish cuisine, and are also believed to be one of the original bitter herbs of Passover. Young dandelion greens are considered to be a delicacy. In the spring, when the leaves are tender and fresh, they can be used for salad greens, either raw or boiled. The roots may also be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. In parts of Eastern Europe, the milky sap is used in folk medicine.

It is almost impossible to describe the taste of dandelion wine, because it depends on the recipe used and the amount of aging. Since many different cultures incorporated dandelions into their distinctive cuisines, it is not surprising that dandelion wine recipes, born from these distinct cultures and traditions, are extremely varied. In addition, many people have graciously shared their family recipes online.

So, while it might seem daunting to choose a recipe for your first batch of dandelion wine, here are a few tips to guide you:

Use only the yellow petals. Leaving the petals attached to the green base will make the wine bitter and unpalatable. This step, called the second picking, can be quite laborious.

Once you’ve harvested your flowers, recruit a group of chatty friends to sit around your kitchen table to pick the petals from the base. I also highly recommend a chilled white wine to go with this step.

There are three mandatory ingredients and a host of optional ingredients to create dandelion wine. Mandatory ingredients include sugar, wine yeast and a source of acid, typically oranges and lemons. Raisins will make it more reminiscent of a white wine, while bananas will give it a richer texture and distinctive aroma. In addition, ginger can add a hint of spice.

Typically, the wine is aged for at least six months to allow it to mellow out and develop complex flavors. Aging the wine for two to three years will create a full-bodied wine, similar to brandy, with a rich golden color. So, this spring instead of bemoaning the dandelion, know that it has been appreciated for centuries and perhaps you too can enjoy what it has to offer.

The perfect bottle of hand-crafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Rd. Complimentary tastings, wine by the glass and cheese platters are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. (843) 842-3141 or www.islandwinery.com.