As foraging gains popularity, people are rethinking the words they use to describe the plants they see every day. For example, most of us think of dandelions as weeds to be pulled and thrown away or obliterated with herbicides.
But to Peggy Jones, dandelions are a healthful delicacy and, in her younger years, even a cash crop. In “My Love Affair with Dandelion,” first published in 1991, Jones shares not only her memories of collecting and preparing dandelions, but her family recipe for them, too.
Have you ever tried dandelion? What’s the tastiest way to prepare them?
My Love Affair with Dandelion
By Peggy Jones
Originally published on March 1, 1991
The author finds that the common weed can be a healthful delicacy.
It must have begun in my childhood as the Great Depression helped to shape our menus. Salads in winter months usually were limited to coleslaw or chilled canned tomatoes. Perhaps we bought lettuce for special occasions. By February we were more than ready for fresh greens.
We also ate a common weed that, as we learned later, was an excellent source of vitamin A, calcium, and potassium, with one-half cup of greens providing 60 to 80 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A, 121 milligrams of potassium, 73 mg of calcium, and only 17 calories. All we knew at the time was that we liked dandelion, which seemed refreshingly wholesome.
“All right, children,” Mother would say as my brother, Bob, and I arrived home from school. “When you change your clothes, dress real warm. It’s time to gather dandelion.” She would hand us each a basket and butcher knife, and we would head for the open fields around our home.
Years later, I asked her how she could stand to see us out in such blustery, cold weather. Granted, our ears and hands were covered but, oh, the wind! “I felt it was building character,” was her reply.
Once Mother finished supper dishes, she would pull up a stool by the sink and attack the job of cleaning our harvest.
No one has ever measured up to her meticulous work. Armed with a paring knife, she dealt with each individual stalk. Folding back any brown layer, she cut off the root neatly and trimmed the leaf ends off, because they could be bitter. She cut the hearts crisscross to make sure any dirt would be washed away. Actually, part of the appeal was the fact it was dandelion heart salad.
When finished, she used four waters to wash thoroughly, and even more if she saw any signs of residue. Then, for the rest of the night, she placed the covered pans, filled with water, in the back porch to keep the dandelion crisp and chilled. Today we have refrigerators!
Though we never cooked the dandelion, it was wilted by the boiled sauce we poured on it.
Our fondness for dandelion spread, and the neighbors wanted some. So Bob and I developed a little business: Mother cleaned quantities until well after midnight, and we sold dandelion at 10 cents a quart in the morning before leaving for school. For two years running we sold enough to pay our way to summer camp at $12 a week, a tidy sum in those days.
Years later, when Bob became a prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, he scoured the campgrounds for every dandelion he could see, cleaning and washing his find as best he could. He ate it knowing he was getting important nutrients his diet was lacking.
I continued to eat dandelion, also. No matter where I lived it never seemed like spring if I didn’t gather a mess or two of dandelion. The farther south we lived, the more bitter it tasted. The cold-weather climate seemed to be ideal.
Dandelion growing in a lawn is usually not as good as that found in the garden or a free area, nor is it tender and succulent once flowers appear. It is definitely an early spring delicacy. The sooner it is gathered, the better it is. While vacationing in Williamsburg one March, I just could not resist gathering dandelion from the children’s play area outside our motel.
My dandelion gathering was not limited to the United States. While visiting in Sweden one April, we were shocked at the price of food. Our hostess served salad (Chinese cabbage) only once. She presented us only a sad, wilted stalk, and we had to pay an exorbitant price to get it. But just 50 feet away in her garden was the richest dandelion I had ever seen. The white part of the stalk was inches high.
“How about if I pick some and fix it for dinner?” I asked.
“Fine,” she answered. The hostess said she had read that dandelion was one of the richest sources of vitamins and nutrients. “I went out on the lawn and dug some,” she said. “It was late summer and it was so bitter. Furthermore, I didn’t know how to prepare it.”
As I used the precious egg, bacon and vinegar, I thought how dreadful a waste of good food it would be if they didn’t like it. Fortunately, they did, raving and telling their friends about it. Before leaving I gave a lesson on the whole process; they, hopefully, have been enjoying some dandelion every spring.
After living in the South for many years, we returned to Pennsylvania for retirement. Naturally I looked forward to my favorite salad. By now my husband was as addicted as I. It was as good as we remembered.
Thinking of our former next door neighbor who had always been our best customer, I realized she probably hadn’t had any dandelion for years. In her late 80s, with sight about gone, I wondered if she wouldn’t enjoy our mutual favorite salad again.
Ringing her doorbell just as I had almost 60 years ago, I waited. As she appeared I told her I had a gift for her. Would she care for a box of dandelion just as she had many years ago? When she realized what it was she kissed me and said, “There isn’t anything in the world you could give me that I’d rather have.”
Driving home and thinking over the pleasure this worldwide common weed gives to some of us, I thought, “Why not share the blessing?”
Our Pennsylvania Dutch Recipe
(Makes 4 servings)
- 1 beaten egg white
- 2–3 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2–3 tablespoon water
- Salt, if desired
- 4–5 cups dandelion
- 1 strip bacon (optional)
- 2 tablespoons onion, diced
Combine egg white, vinegar, honey, and water in bowl and beat well. Fry diced bacon. When partly cooked, pour off grease, add onion, and continue frying. Add egg mixture. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Pour over well-drained dandelion and mix thoroughly. Hardboiled egg white optional.