Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dandelion Wine

At family dinner the other day we were talking about when we should introduce the little Sheep to alcohol - the two budding rams are at the age where they will be exposed sooner or later, and it may as well be under adult supervision.* I think I was about twelve when I was started being granted a tiny glass of homemade wine whenever we happened to have Sunday lunch at my Grandma's house. A year later I was drinking at the bar of some pub in Stratford during a Shakespeare-related high school field trip, but at least my family got in first!

Wine at my Grandma's house was always homemade; I don't remember much about it except that it was always sweet and I didn't get much of it. My parents used to make homemade wine and beer when I was super young; they stopped doing it in the 80's, but before that it was game on! 

My Mom used to take my brother Paul Circus (PC) and I on regular trips to the South Downs where we would collect raw materials - she would bring a pair of orange handled sithers, snip the flowers from elder trees, and pack them into carrier bags while PC and myself were enjoying ourselves.

Later in the year we would collect elderberries, at least a couple of bags worth. Back in the kitchen the elderberries would be separated from the twigs with a fork prior to fermentation; elderberry was always my favorite red wine actually, something fifteen years of living next to the Napa Valley has not changed.

The most memorable pickin' trip took place in about 1979 when the three of us went out looking for dandelions. Yeah, they're weeds, but you can also make wine from them. We didn't have to go far on this particular trip: there was a large patch of waste land about ten minutes walk from our house where dandelions and many other weeds were abundant. They built some nice houses on this spot in the mid-80's, but before that it was part community gardens and part dumping ground.

You can pack a couple of carrier bags with elderflowers quite quickly, but dandelion heads....that takes a long time. And you get sticky, foul-tasting sap on your fingers. The other issue was the dandelions were intermingled with tons of stinging nettles.

Paul Circus was on the 2 maybe 3 years old borderline at the time of this event so almost certainly doesn't remember this story, but here goes anyway: We had been pickin' for quite a while and had got about a bag and a half of dandelion heads, so probably 75% of what was needed. PC and myself had lost interest in the quest and were more concerned with poking through the various pieces of trash that had been dumped around us.

One of these items was the passenger seat out of an old car - the foam was escaping and it looked really damp, but PC was ready for a relaxing sit down, and ignored Mom's instructions otherwise. I have to say, it did not look like comfortable seat. Anyway, he sat in it, I think for about two or three seconds before the seat collapsed, and deposited PC into a huge patch of nettles.

This was obviously a major trauma. When my Mom managed to pull him out of the nettles, every bit of exposed skin - arms, legs, face, neck etc., was covered in huge welts. It looked bad. But PC was more concerned with letting my Mom know he'd been pushed off the seat by me! Luckily this charge didn't stick because I was ten feet away and, even more crucially, my Mom was actually watching instead of picking dandelions.

If anything, the passing of this information onto PC made him even more upset. I was gutted too, because our dandelion collecting trip was immediately abandoned and I had to lug one and a half bags full of dandelions back to the house...while my Mom carried a screaming PC over her shoulder. I'm pretty sure I never got to sample the dandelion wine either.

(*wait....maybe they've already been exposed!)

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