Dandelion wine that’d make Ray Bradbury proud
I was visiting my parents in Montana when I spotted a sticky, 2-liter Pepsi bottle shoved in a dark corner cabinet.
Hutterites are Anabaptists who live communally. They won’t read this, so I can say they aren’t much different than the Amish, at least to an outsider. Hutterite men drink wine—and so did I. It is a sweet, cloying throat burner, but good. For several years, I bootlegged wine to Sacramento through various family friends’ car trunks, but connections dried up, and I haven’t seen any in years.
Then it clicked: Why not try to make some? Sacramento has plenty of dandelions and higher-quality ingredients, and better bottling, so as to smooth out that rubbing-alcohol aftertaste. The process seemed simple: Get a lot of dandelions, remove the stems and leaves, soak the flowers, then boil with lemon, orange, lime juice and spices. Then, filter, cool down, add activated yeast, leave overnight and finally pour it into bottles with a balloon on top to keep the wild yeast out.
Store in a cool, dark place. Three weeks later, cork the bottles and leave them for six more months. Enjoy it, along with thoughts of summer, in November. You can rack the wine during the first three-week fermentation process if you like. (Racking is pouring the wine into a clean bottle, keeping the sediment back. It makes for a smoother taste.)
I tend to wing recipes, so I learned from my mistakes. Gathering the dandelions was easy, once I found a suitable yellow-starred meadow. Younger flowers are seasonal now, in April and May, and are easier to separate from their leaves.
After gathering blossoms, I made my first executive decision-slash-mistake. My friends and I weren’t able to immediately begin the second step, so I threw the flowers in the freezer. Wrong. The frozen flowers were difficult to divorce from their leaves.
You’re better off spending a lovely spring afternoon riding bikes, picking dandelions and separating them ASAP on a blanket with a glass of wine, some cheese and some friends. Lovely. Hunching over a sink cursing at the frozen flowers for hours while listening to the Coasters: not lovely. (The Coasters do no help.)
After the first half-hour of deleafing, I consulted the Internet and discovered recipes that call for the whole flowers, at which point I became sloppy about leaf removal. Leaves can make bitter wine, though, so I came to my senses and removed as many as possible.
When down to just flowers, soak them in water for two days. Next, time to cook it up! Mix the flowers with orange, lemon and lime juice. The limes I found were hard as rocks, so I just used twice as much juice from a friend’s backyard Meyer lemon tree. Local, organic and free beats rock-hard, out-of-season limes every time.
To the juice, add ginger, cloves (I used juniper berries), a lot of sugar and water. Boil for an hour and filter. When it has cooled, add the activated yeast (champagne yeast next time) and let sit overnight. Then either use a balloon with a wee hole in it to place over the mouth to allow fermentation, or use a fermentor. Leave it in a cool dark place for three weeks, then cork the bottles and leave for half a year.
Next winter, throw the wine in an old Coke bottle and toast the Hutterites. Be sure to share with women.