I am wild about dandelions. Their greens deliver a fleeting sweetness at the first nod of spring (before succumbing to a load of bitterness) and inspired me to write about harvesting and eating them a few weeks ago, followed by a recipe for Cream of Dandelion Soup. So next up, I thought, I just have to make dandelion wine. I’ve tackled many experiments in the kitchen, how hard can dandelion wine be?
Well. After reading about secondary fermentation vessels and yeast varieties and fermentation traps, I thought, uhmm, actually, I think it was dandelion syrup that I wanted to make.
Dandelion syrup can be used in many ways, on top of pancakes or plain yogurt, anywhere you use a sweetener, really, you name it. I started imagining dandelion cocktails come summer; homemade dandelion ice cream sweetened with dandelion syrup and speckled with dandelion petals; dandelion this and dandelion that. Dandelion everything.
In this country, dandelions abound–yet go unloved by most. I will spare you my conspiracy theories about the defamation of the dandelion; this rant includes evil-genius chemical companies, the accidental discovery of phenoxy type herbicides in the 1940s and the need to find a public enemy (that would be the dandelion) to ensure a long and profitable demand for the new herbicidal product.
Anyhow, the Roundup parade isn’t marching around my neck of the woods in Brooklyn. Here, the dandelions earnestly shimmy up through sidewalk cracks and inhabit even the most desolate patches of soil, which is really so heartening. This would all seem a great harbinger for my dandelion syrup endeavor. However, urban foraging has its own set of considerations, which include dogs and their lifted legs, roadside exhaust and the possibility of rodent poison. Which all kind of suck the charm right out of it. As chance would have it though, there is a large lawn at a nearby high school that is wonderfully unruly and thankfully untreated with chemicals. It is being organically planted with vegetable beds by the students, and the grass was rampant with dandelions. I asked, they said, “uhmm yeah, sure lady, take ‘em.” And take I did, 100 of them.
Once at home, my daughters and I, hands sticky with bright golden pollen, plucked off the petals and had a bowl of the loveliest plant matter: Soft, downy almost, and redolent with the scent of asparagus and carnations. What an oddly endearing base for a syrup.
So, dandelion syrup. I have long been intrigued by it—it’s at once kind of down-home American as well as cool French granny. It is a basic herbal infusion made into a simple syrup. I felt like I didn’t want to boil the bejeezus out of the blossoms, so I just brought them to a simmer and let them soak overnight. The puzzle for me was what sweetener to use. Traditionally white sugar is used, but white sugar lands last on my list of happy sweeteners. So, I played around with some other alternatives as well, all with quite different results.
• White sugar made a syrup with a faint taste of vanilla and very slightly nutty, it was really just mostly sweet and somewhat plain.
• Sucanat, one of my favorite sweeteners, was, as I expected, too heavy in flavor to let the subtle dandelion taste shine through. That said, it was very interesting; like an herbaceous molasses.
• Honey has that smooth edge that became more pronounced after simmering. I used a mild clover honey and the result was like a somewhat spicy and grassy honey.
• Agave syrup worked beautifully because it is such a clean-tasting sweetener—the syrup made with agave was sweet and clean, with bright green undertones.
So pick your dandelions, pick your sweetener and make some syrup. Many recipes call for lemon, which gives it a little kick of citrus. Suit yourself.
100 dandelion flowers, or 1 and 1/2 cups petals
1 cup sweetener (see above)
3 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
1. Remove the petals from the sepal (the sepal consists of the small tight leaves that extend from the stem and grasp the flower). This takes a while to get the hang of, but gets much quicker as you go along. Be sure to not allow any green into the petals, it will add bitterness to the syrup.
2. Place the petals in a medium pot and cover with 3 cups water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit overnight.
3. Strain dandelion water into a bowl, pressing on the flowers with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid.
4. Return water to pot and add sweetener, and lemon juice if using, and simmer over low heat until thickened.
5. Allow to cool, and pour into a clean jar or bottle. Store covered in refrigerator.
Makes about 2 cups