Dandelion wine: An ancestral brew – #atozchallenge

D is for Dandelion wine. Fourth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

Every spring when dandelions pop up their yellow heads, I’m reminded of the Altamont, N.Y., farm where I lived until I was seven with my parents and maternal grandparents — and  eventually two younger brothers.

Later, when we moved to the suburbs, those dandelions would become my dad’s enemy — a signal that he was not taking proper care of his lawn.

But on the farm, dandelions were part of the natural order of things. Their bobbing heads could be enjoyed, picked and smelled — or just mowed down along with the thick, untamed farm grass.

More than that, they were the key ingredient in the homemade dandelion wine that Dad brewed in the unheated room off our kitchen.

Hand harvesting

Dandelions, Aurora, N.Y. (2016). My childhood task of picking flower heads to make dandelion wine turned out to have an ancestral  connection. Photo: Molly Charboneau

“Just pick the yellow flower, nothing else,” Dad would instruct, handing me a little-kid pail.

The he might relax in an Adirondack chair on the farmhouse porch and watch the traffic go by on Route 20 — or putter away at some household repair — while I went to work gathering the blossoms.

I remember racing around the yard looking for dandelions as if I was hunting for gold — seeing how quickly I could fill my pail to the brim with the sunny, warm, fragrant flower heads.

Each time I delivered a pail of flowers to Dad — my hands sticky with their tangy sap — he’d pour my harvest into a larger bin until it was filled with enough dandelions to start brewing the wine.

Ancestral brew

For years I recalled this flower-picking ritual as just a fun time on a spring day. But once I started studying my family’s history, up popped an ancestral connection.

The dandelion wine recipe Dad used came from my Italian-American grandfather Tony Laurence — his last name anglicized from Di Lorenzo. He was my mom’s father who with us on the farm.

Gramps inherited the recipe from his Italian ancestors back in Gloversville, N.Y. — and who knows how long the dandelion wine instructions were passed down in our family before they got to him.

So when the wine was ready and Dad let me taste a spoonful of the bitter brew, I had no idea I was also imbibing a bit of my family heritage.

Up next: E is for Elephants, mastodons and local excursions. Please stop back!

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15 thoughts on “Dandelion wine: An ancestral brew – #atozchallenge”

  1. My husbands mentioned some of his Italian family made dandelion wine and I think they’ve used the greens for salad too. I enjoy learning what our families use and eat and those traditions have died out.

    1. I know what you mean. Dandelions are so plentiful, yet nobody knows to pick and eat the greens — let alone how to make wine with them. And you do have to make it — I’ve never seen a commercial dandelion wine.

  2. what a lovely connection to the past of your family! thank you for sharing. we have a special dandelion salad made of the early greens every year at Easter, but I’ve no idea if it goes back more than a couple of generations.

  3. I’ve always wanted to try dandelion wine — but then I saw your spoiler alert! 😉 I still might give a try one day.

    It’s amazing how many things have been passed down that we don’t even realize. Good story and research!

    1. Thanks, Stphanie! Nothing else tastes quite like it. As and adult, I asked my dad to make me a batch — and the aroma alone took me right back to the farm!

    1. Thanks for your visit, Rhea. Yes, it takes a bit of sleuthing to get to the bottom of some of these family connections…but it’s so worth it when you do!

  4. We picked dandelions too but made them into dandelion chains and necklaces. We picked them with stems as long as possible then split the stem with a fingernail. Then it was a matter of threading the next one through that hole until the desired length was achieved.
    Dandelion wine, that’s one I’ve not tasted!

    1. Spoiler alert: the wine is on the bitter side; definitely an acquired taste. That said, dandelion is an appetite stimulant — the Italians knew their herbs! Those dandelion chains and necklaces sound fun. I still love the delicate smell and feel of the flower.

        1. You can make a tincture with it, too. Used to help those with weak appetites. That may be easier than the wine making if you decided to give it a go.

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