Please Don’t Eat the Hyacinths (But it’s okay to drink the dandelions)

I was researching on the Internet about edible flowers and I found a site that recommended boiling them.  I can barely keep flowers going in a regular flower pot.  Why in the world would I want to boil flowers?  Mmmm . . . boiled pansies.  I can only imagine what that would look like!

Another site advised consuming edible flowers was healthy for you because they are low in sodium.  Well, it’s a reason I guess.  Probably extremely low-calorie and fat-free too.  I suppose they must have some nutritional value.  Bees certainly get a buzz from them.

I’ve tried steamed squash blossoms.  They’re not too bad-looking and tasting.  They say gladioli taste like lettuce, angelica like celery and carnations taste peppery.  Maybe I simply need to give them a try, but I just can’t wrap my taste buds around eating flowers.  Sorry, no.  I’d feel like a goat.

Apparently you have to know what you’re doing if you want to nosh on flowers so you don’t accidentally poison yourself.  According to one chart online, day lilies act as a laxative.  Hyssop is not good for pregnant women or people with epilepsy or hypertension.  Apple blossoms may contain precursors to cyanides.  (Good Lord!)  For tuberous begonias, only hybrids are edible.  The flowers and stems contain oxalic acid and should not be consumed by individuals suffering from gout, kidney stones or rheumatism.  Lavender tastes like perfume and the oil may be poisonous, so use sparingly.  These are from the edible list!  (http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowers.htm)

And honeysuckle–the flower my children used to pluck off the vine and suck the nectar out of like a bunch of little hummingbirds when we lived in Georgia–has extremely poisonous berries, I learned.  Whew!  Never tried them myself, but my boys would drink from dozens of honeysuckle blossoms at a time and they did not suffer any ill effect.  They just moved about so fast it was hard to get a good look at them sometimes.

As I read down the chart, I got to dandelions.  “Young buds fried in butter taste like mushrooms,” it says.  “Makes a potent wine.”  Aha!  There it is–Dandelion Wine. The title of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories.  In fact, it was an all-time favorite book–period.  This book was the inspiration for the ultimate project of my seventh-grade summer.
English: Dandelion by the coast path Dandelion...

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I picked and picked and picked those dandelions until I had gallons of them.  I carefully took off the flower heads, washed them, boiled them and put them in big buckets with water in our garage.  I’m not sure what else I put in them.  Sugar, I think, and lemons.  I covered them with cheesecloth and checked them every day expecting to eventually find they fermented into a lovely yellow nectar of the gods that would fill my summer days with magic and adventure!  I wanted to be like the twelve-year-old character Douglas Spaulding in the book!  I wanted to “pack all the joys of summer” into a bottle of that wine.

Well it fermented alright.  You wouldn’t believe what those buckets smelled like after a few weeks in the garage in the mid-summer heat!  My winemaking venture was a total failure and the stuff I concocted was a cruel insult to my youthful vision of summer bliss a la Ray Bradbury.  My expectations went as flat as a plate of boiled pansies.

Not that I’d given any thought whatsoever to what I, an eleven-year-old, would do with dandelion or any other kind of wine.  I just wanted to succeed in making it.  (I had always made fabulous dandelion jewelry in the past, why not dandelion wine?)

Since then I learned to make delicious dandelion greens.  These are great in the spring and provide lots of health benefits.  They are a wonderful cleansing tonic to refresh you from the long winter of eating heavier foods.  Dandelion greens can be very bitter but if you start looking for them now through early spring, while they are very young, the bitterness will not be overbearing.  (I am talking about looking for them in your organic food store, not your lawn! Although technically, your backyard dandelions could be added to the edible lawn weeds chart.)

Sautéed Dandelion Greens

Wash young dandelion leaves and stems in cold water and cut them in 1-inch pieces.  Heat some olive oil in a heavy pan and drop in some minced garlic (to taste).  Before the garlic gets overcooked and brown, add the cut dandelion greens and sprinkle with sea salt.  Sautee the greens until they are tender but still bright looking.  Finish with a little soy sauce if you like.  Garnish with thinly sliced lemon peel.  (Optional:  decorate with fuchsia or lilac blossoms)

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Sometimes I still think about giving Dandelion Wine another go.  In case you or I want to try packing all the joys of summer into a bottle of homemade dandelion wine, there are plenty of recipes to be found online.  And there’s a place in North Dakota called Maple River Winery that makes and sells Dandelion Wine (Now you’re talkin’).  They say it is one of their best sellers.  (http://www.mapleriverwinery.com/history.htm)

So it turns out I may not want to eat carnations, lilies or nasturtiums.  But the lowly dandelion has been on my menu for quite some time.  Anyone want to contribute a recipe for Dandelion Buds fried in butter?

Much love, Patty

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Where are Grandmother’s Wine Cookies?

Plenty of people bake over the holidays and give wonderful hand-prepared gifts as presents. Though I am not much of a baker except for occasional pies, I remember making all kinds of cookies with my Mom at Christmastime when I was a kid. We had all the usual stuff—the cookie cutters, red and green sugar, those little silver balls, nuts, powdered sugar and recipes.

It was one of the few occasions during the year when I spent an entire day just with Mom and doing some real cooking. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and even though I was young, I was already motivated to cook my little heart out.

Mom’s cooking typically involved any new food products that came out and at the time she was completely impressed with frozen foods—frozen TV dinners, of course, and frozen vegetables, and anything else that could be pulled out of the freezer and made ready to eat in minutes. And if it wasn’t frozen, then it came out of a can. Except for salad, which was always iceberg lettuce and tomato topped with and only with French’s French Dressing. Not too exciting for a budding cook, so the chance to make real cookies with real ingredients including real flour instead of “Wondra” was special indeed!

[Mom: “Look! They’ve invented flour that can be mixed with cold water to make gravy!” Me: “What do you usually have to mix it with?” Mom: “Hot water. But now you don’t have to heat the water up!” Me: “?”]

This was a time when my mother and I always got along better than usual and we would talk about all kinds of things. She would tell me stories about her Christmases as a child and about our family—many of whom I had never met. I loved hearing about my grandmother who was apparently a genius Christmas cookie maker and had handed down a sacred recipe for “wine cookies”—better known as “Grandmother’s Wine Cookies.”

The Wine Cookie recipe was on an aging, brown little scrap of paper in my grandmother’s faded writing. It was a beautiful work of art with her scrolled writing and the nearly parchment look to the paper. It had decades’ worth of little spots and stains from butter, molasses and of course, dark, red wine.

My first fascination with these cookies was that they had wine in them. That’s not a cookie ingredient! That’s not something I’m allowed to have! You mean I can have a cookie with wine in it? Can you taste the wine? What is wine?

My second fascination was that this was a type of lace cookie that bubbled up when you baked it and became a delicate, thin, lacey-looking wafer with a slight sheen to it. Each cookie seemed intricate and one-of-a-kind like snowflakes.

And they were absolutely delicious! And you could taste the wine quite a bit!

We made these every single year and every year my mother said she would hand this recipe down to me which was an idea I savored as much as I savored the cookies themselves.

As the years passed we eventually stopped doing the cookie marathons, I grew up and moved out and got a family of my own. I hadn’t tasted Grandmother’s Wine Cookies for many, many years. When my mother passed I looked and looked for this beautiful piece of paper. Sadly I never found it. I asked relatives if they knew the recipe but never found someone who did. And every single Christmas since then, I think of these cookies.

So now, fifty years later, I’ve decided to find my Grandmother’s Wine Cookies somehow! They had flour, lots of butter, salt and were sweetened with molasses which mixed with all the butter gave them that ability to bubble up and look like lace. And of course they had dark, rich, red wine. (No idea what type of red wine.) They may have also had sugar but I’m not sure.

Seems like I could re-invent these! But it would be great if I can first find a good recipe for this cookie or even a good recipe for molasses lace cookies that I can transform. Can anyone help me with that? Can you help me with your own recipe or guide me through The Power of the Internet to a recipe that’s a close match?

Can anyone help me find my Grandmother’s Wine Cookies?

Much love,
Patty