Friday, April 11, 2008

The Monk’s Choice.

April 11 ...

According to the Gregorian calendar, the plant for this day, dedicated to St Leo, was the Dandelion (Leontodon taraxacum), a member of the sunflower family which is far less grand than the signature member, and in fact usually considered to be a weed.

My appreciation of the dandelion is coloured by two childhood perceptions. One was the sincerely repeated folktale that if you picked dandelions you would wet the bed. This was clearly not a belief confined to the north of England, as even our old enemy across the channel calls it piss-en-lit. I absolutely did not believe such a ridiculous theory, but on the other hand, there was no way I was going to test it out. The other was my favourite soft drink ‘Dandelion and Burdock’. I have to admit that I did not for a long time recognise this as having any connection with the incontinence-causing weed, because in my head the drink was an entity called ‘dandelionandburdock’.

‘Dandelion and Burdock’, for those of you uninitiated into its delights, is Britain’s answer to root beer or sarsparilla – or is it that root beer and sarsparilla are America’s answer to Dandelion and Burdock? The modern drink is a completely dandelion-less, burdock-less, artificially-coloured, artificially-flavoured, highly sweetened bastard offspring of what was once a medicinal concoction. Many herbs and wayside ‘weeds’ were once used extensively for their medicinal value - dandelion was used for everything from ‘inward bruises’ and pleurisy to liver disorders for example. Medicine was cheap in those days – you just went out and picked it, no dispensing fee charged.

Dandelion was also a useful salad green or pot-herb, and still could be, if we bothered with it – as the French still do. It seems that the Americans used to use it this way too (do you still?)

These are relished by many as well as spinach cooked in the same way. Take the young leaves before the plant blossoms or while in bud, mash quite clean, boil tender in salted water, drain well and press them dry. They can be served plain with melted butter or can by chopped and heated afresh with pepper, salt, and a little butter rolled in flour, and a spoonful or two of gravy or cream. A lareg quantity should be boiled, as they shrink very much. The dandelion is considered very healthy, and the slight bitterness is relished by most persons.
[Jennie June's American Cookery Book. 1870]

Monday’s Story …

Chicken pie without the chicken.

Quotation for the Day …

Speaking of food, English cuisine has received a lot of unfair criticism over the years, but the truth is that it can be a very pleasant surprise to the connoisseur of severely overcooked livestock organs served in lukewarm puddles of congealed grease. England manufactures most of the world's airline food, as well as all the food you ever ate in your junior-high-school cafeteria. Dave Barry.


Anonymous said...

In the past few years grocery stores have started stocking dandelion greens that have been grown down south (I'm in New England). They are HUGE (almost a foot tall). I do know people who collect them from the lawn, but that is an old fashioned thing to do...or a very trendy thing for chefs who are into local food. I grew up loving Ray Bradbury's book Dandelion Wine so I always think of that when I see them. I'd like to try it some time.

I love your site. Thanks for all your hard work.

Sarah in Vermont, USA

Unknown said...

We Americans do still bother with dandelion greens! When we can find father has been making them for a long time, and I actually went looking for them a couple of weeks ago, to no avail.

Lidian said...

Your post made me think of the lovely elderflower drink I had while visiting English in-laws a few years ago - just wonderful,and subtle.

I have nominated you for an "E for Excellence" award - post about to go up about it - which indeed you are!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Rachel - when you say 'went looking' - do you mean at the market or in the 'wild'?

Lidian - I did not get chance to have an elderflower brew when I was in the UK last September, but I am surely going to try it next time. I seem to remember an old aunt of mine making elderflower wine.

The Old Foodie said...

An Lidian - thankyou for the award nomination!

Rosemary said...

The nicest elderflower drink (to my mind) is elderflower fizz - it is mildly alcoholic. Put about a dozen heads of elderflower in a bucket, and pour a couple of kettles of boiling water over them, and add a packet of sugar. Stir. Once cold, add a packet of common or garden baking yeast. Let the whole lot ferment for about a week, then strain it, and add the juice of two lemons. Check the taste - you may need to add a little more water, or more lemon juice. Put it into PET bottles, screw the lids down, and wait until the bottles are hard before drinking, when it will foam out exuberantly.

Dandelion is indeed a diuretic, and I have grown especially culinary cultivars in the garden before now.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I have actually never tried dandelion, and it is indeed plentiful in my front lawn. Of course, I'd have to find a more reliable supplier!