When I was a child, my grandmother’s chicken soup was special: good broth, lots of vegetables, and scraps from weeding the front yard. Dandelion greens, to be exact.
The first time she served it to me, I peered into the pot, then up at her with a raised eyebrow.
“You can eat them?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” she said, matter-of-factly. She had grown up on the things. “My mother would sometimes stop the car if she saw a field of dandelions. She’d get right out and start picking them.”
I had a bowl, and liked it. The greens were mild and very slightly bitter — it reminded me a little of Italian wedding soup, hold the meatballs, add some lawn clippings.
But I wouldn’t eat dandelions again until I heard about a dandelion festival in Dover, Ohio. Started by the Breitenbach Winery in 1993 after a successful run of dandelion wine, the festival takes place in early May with the first full bloom of dandelions in the Amish country hills. There are dandelion-cooking demonstrations, a dandelion-picking contest for the kids, plenty of wine for the grown-ups, and lots of things to taste. The first year I attended, I tried dandelion lasagna, dandelion bread, dandelion sangria (using the dandelion wine), dandelion jelly, and a very interesting dandelion gravy. Bitter, sweet, and salty; crispy with bacon, creamy with butter, and zipping with a splash of vinegar — for the first time since that fateful bowl of chicken soup, I was actually excited about dandelions.
And why not? Dandelions are so easy to forage: Everyone knows what they look like, they grow everywhere, and they’re easy to gather. You don’t need dogs or pigs, as you do hunting truffles, and you don’t need to worry about poisonous look-alikes, as with mushrooms, or limited supplies, like ginseng. (Just make sure the greens are a good distance from the road in an area free of any lawn chemicals or pesticides, and be sure to wash them well.) They’re easy to cook and very nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals, omegas and fiber. It’s like a multi-vitamin growing in your yard, free for the plucking, and far easier to swallow. Especially in gravy.
4 slices of bacon
Small pad of butter (optional)
1 C milk
2 T flour
2 T vinegar (apple cider, rice, or other)
2 T sugar
3-4 C of fresh dandelion greens (washed well and chopped)
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
Fry the bacon slices in a pan until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain most of the grease, leaving a little in the pan. Lower the heat, melt the butter in the pan, if using, and stir in the milk and flour. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick — you want a gravy-like thickness.
Stir in the sugar, vinegar, and dandelion greens. When the greens wilt, turn off the heat. Crumble the bacon into the gravy along with the chopped up hardboiled eggs.
Ladle over mashed potatoes, meat, or biscuits.