To a green lawn lover, dandelions are a scourge. My own lawn, on the other hand, becomes dotted with brilliant yellow blossoms the minute the earth wakes up from its long, snowy nap and I welcome their arrival. I keep the otherwise hated weed around for the bees, knowing that the pollen will sustain them. On a breezy day, the seed heads puff up and blow away, making the lawn look less appealing and probably making my neighbors not particularly happy.
Soon the violets join in the fun, followed by the ajuga, which both lend their purple hues to create a landscape artist’s dream. The lily-of-the-valley tries to take over the garden and because of its lovely scent I let it run, along with the forget-me-nots that too, love to take over with their baby-blue blossoms. Another pushy plant, sweet woodruff, looks so pretty under the pines but it soon gangs up on smaller perennials and sometimes I have to take a stand, assert my authority and rip it out with abandon so that the others may live.
Where some see weeds, I see beauty – in particular the dandelions and sweet woodruff, as not only are they pretty, they are palatable.
For instance, every May I like to make May wine, an infusion of white wine and sweet woodruff flowers. Although it makes an innocent-looking aperitif, it does pack a punch and it’s not something I indulge in for longer than the blossoms permit. It’s easy to make and the taste is sublime. Think of spring in a glass.
I have never made dandelion wine, however, thinking that every year this is the time, but instead I make a dandelion cake, something to enjoy with that glass of May wine. Some folks like the leaves to use in salad (think chicory or escarole) and some like to batter dip the blossoms for a snack. My dandelion enjoyment tends toward the sweet side.
In the early Roman times, the dandelion was sold in shops to be used as food or medicine (one claim to fame is its diuretic ability, although I have no personal knowledge). But I prefer to enjoy dandelions visually, then culinarily. In the spring I collect extra dandelions and freeze them to use later in the year.
This dandelion cake recipe comes from a great website,
eattheweeds.com. That’s where you’ll find other fun recipes for this buttery yellow beauty. I urge you to make the dandelion syrup as well, which can be used in any recipe calling for honey, or simply stirred into a glass of iced tea.
Even better: Enjoying dandelions cuts my weeding time to a bare minimum – so that I can sit on the deck and sip May wine – and eat cake.
Kate Lawson is a retired food writer at The Detroit News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dandelion Blossom Cake
Recipe from eattheweeds.com. Make a frosting or simply dust with powdered sugar to serve. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil until center tests done.
2 cups self-rising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup Dandelion Blossom Syrup (see recipe) or substitute natural honey
1 1/2 cups oil
2 cups dandelion blossom petals
One 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
Sift together dry ingredients. In separate bowl, beat sugar, dandelion syrup, oil and eggs together until creamy.
Add pineapple, walnuts, coconut, and dandelion petals and mix well.
Stir dry ingredients into the mixture until well blended. Pour batter into a greased, 9-by-13 cake pan and bake at 350° for about 40 minutes. Serves 12.
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 or 2 tablespoons milk
Mix the ingredients together and apply to the cake after it has cooled.
Easy to make, this syrup can be used as a substitute for honey in any recipe.
1 quart dandelion flowers (just the yellow flowers; the green cover is bitter!)
1 quart (4 cups) water
4 cups sugar
1/2 lemon or orange chopped, peel and all. (The citrus is optional; it will give the syrup an orangey or lemony flavor.)
Put blossoms and water in a pot. Bring just to a boil, turn off heat, cover, and let sit overnight.
The next day, strain and press liquid out of spent flowers. Add sugar and sliced citrus and heat slowly, stirring occasionally, for several hours or until reduced to thick, honey-like syrup. Can in half-pint or 1-pint jars.
Per serving: 641 calories; 38 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 53 percent calories from fat); 74 g carbohydrates; 55 g sugar; 21 mg cholesterol; 345 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.