Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale, are one of the first flowers we see in the spring and also one of the first for emerging insects such as honey bees. I try to leave the first flush of flowers to the insects but after that, dandelions are one of the flowers that can benefit from its habitat being regularly mown or harvested to prolong its lifecycle.
All parts of this plant can be eaten although some are an acquired taste! The bitter raw leaves can be added to salads and are a great source of vitamins (specifically A,C and K) and minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium). The roots can be chopped up fine, roasted and turned into a coffee substitute and the flowers can be used in a number of applications including wine, marmalade, and if you don’t know what else to do with an edible flower, fritter it.
I’ve never been keen on marmalade but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve actually tasted it and disliked it or if it’s just one of those fussy eating habits you get as a kid that you associate with ‘old’ people. This dandelion marmalade was a revelation to me though and I couldn’t stop eating it and I feel very decadent eating it on sour dough toast, don’t you know. It’s probably because I’m now old. I’ve also used it in a Champagne Cocktail instead of the sugar lump and using Dandelion ‘champagne’ (recipe below).
Dandelion Marmalade Recipe:
500g apples roughly chopped. It is these that contain the pectin that help your marmalade to set so you can use the core and peel too as these will be strained out later.
100ml citrus juice (e.g. lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit) and the rind. If you’re not using fresh fruit and therefore no rind, then add another 500g of apples.
100g dandelion petals (2 x 50g)
500g granulated or jam sugar
Place the apples and fruit rind (not the juice) in a pan with the water and half of the dandelion petals and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse overnight.
The next morning, strain the liquid to remove the petals and chunks of apple and return to the pan. Add the citrus juice and sugar and heat slowly to dissolve all of the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the remaining dandelion petals and then boil until you reach setting point. It is a boiling liquid at this stage so you will not be able to visually see how thick the cooled marmalade will be so it can be gauged by using a sugar thermometer or you can place a small amount on a saucepan and place in the freezer for fifteen minutes. If it comes out set then you know it has worked. If it is too runny then you need to boil it some more, if it’s too solid then add more water.
500g of dandelion flowers
2 litres of water
2 lemon sliced
You may have already seen the elder flower champagne recipe posted here before and the process is very similar.
Gather your flower heads and leave on a board for an hour to give the insects a chance to wander off on their own accord.
Ensure all equipment is sterilised by swishing in boiling water. I’ve never made this in as large as quantities as I do elder flower champagne so one very large saucepan might be big enough or alternatively, it’s worth investing in a fermenting bucket as it’ll get used later in the spring for elder flowers.
Add 1 litre of boiling water to the pan/bucket and add your sugar, stirring until it fully dissolved. Add a further litre of cold water to bring the temperature down as you are relying on the natural yeasts occurring on the flowers to feed on the sugar and ferment your concoction and you don’t want to kill them by boiling them alive.
Once the water is luke warm, add your flower heads and sliced lemons giving the lemons a bit of a squeeze to release the juice.
Cover the bucket with muslin cloth and leave at room temperature for three days to allow the fermentation process to begin. If you place in the fridge it will slow down and even halt the fermentation so don’t do this unless you know you’re going away suddenly and you don’t want your ferment to spoil.
After three days, use a funnel and the muslin cloth to sieve off the liquid into sterilised bottles. I prefer using glass flip top bottles as this allows me to release the build up of fermentation gas every couple of days easily during the first week of bottling and prevents the bottles exploding. I don’t generally get as much fizz with dandelions as I do with elder flower but each harvest will be different and different geographical areas might naturally get more yeast on the flowers.
Store in a cool dark place. I honestly don’t know how long this will last as like I mentioned, I’ve never made huge batches of it and it gets drunk during my spring walks, but I’ve used elder flower champagne a couple of years later without issue and I don’t see why this would be different. If you know of a reason then be a pal and add a comment as to why.
Oh, and the Champagne Cocktail I mentioned. So, it’s not strictly the classic champagne cocktail which has a sugar cube that dissolves in the glass releasing bubbles but it’s pretty close and as you’re using wild ingredients it has its own ‘wow’ factor. Or for some people a ‘oh my god, what the F is that?!’ factor.
Place the dandelion marmalade (or sugar cube) at the bottom of a champagne flute
Add 2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Add one measure of brandy
Top up with dandelion champagne
Traditionally served with an orange slice or maraschino cherry but when you’re living in a tipi you make do with what’s around you….a pennywort leaf.