It’s time for the first harvest of the year. It isn’t rhubarb, asparagus or strawberries that starts our harvest season but dandelions. This unusual winter and early spring hasn’t been kind to the berries and fruit trees but the dandelions are thriving. Anyone passing by can’t help to notice the cheerful yellow flowers blooming in the grassy areas of the parking lot.
Dandelions are surely the easiest crop that we grow. They just come up year after year with no help from us. When Max decided to start the winery it seemed fortuitous that there in the parking lot was a crop ready for harvesting.
Dandelions are found all over the world and have been widely valued centuries. The young leaves are eaten in salads or sautéed as a vegetable. Their flavor is a bit like endive or chicory. They are as rich in vitamins and minerals as any other food available. The roots are edible and used to be made into tonics believed to make one healthier in general and were specifically prized for treating gall-bladder and liver ailments.
Dandelions in this country appear to have been introduced by European settlers. Dandelion wine was probably first made in Europe but became a popular drink for homesteaders and farmers across the country.
In 1964 when we bought our first home, a Victorian cottage built in 1848, we discovered several bottles of dandelion wine in the old fruit cellar. It had been bottled in 1924. We were curious and somewhat apprehensively opened a bottle to sample. It was a very sweet drink with an unusual flavor. That was our introduction to dandelion wine.
Fast forward to Goodale (Russell) Orchards and the beginnings of the winery. It seemed only natural to take advantage of a crop that never needed to be planted or fertilized or cared for. It grew with no help from us and was just waiting to be harvested.
The flowers are picked, mixed with raisins, sugar, and water and allowed to steep for several days. They are then pressed to extract the flavors. The resulting liquid is placed in vats for the process of fermentation to begin. The finished wine is a smooth, slightly sweet, dessert wine that has become an important addition to our traditional fruit wines.