Foraged Gold

“Most of the dandelions had turned from sun into moons”

Vladimir Nobokov



The view over our back field, speckled with dandelions.


With the on-off winter-spring we’ve had this year, the dandelions have come - and gone - in little rushes, rather than massing in their usual golden carpet. Fewer bees seem to be out enjoying their nectar, maybe thinking they’re up and about too early in the year, as the morning light still reveals a gossamer frost. Frost in May and a storm blowing confetti clouds of petals from the apple tree outside my window as I write.


Yesterday we had sun, beautiful bone warming sun, so it was time to gather for my favourite recipe. Always pick dandelions in the sun so they’re brimming with tasty pollen and easier to process.


Dandelioning is a joyful forage as I walk all of the land, taking a few from each field and enjoying the whole process. It is slow as I stop and stoop (one should always gather dandelions in a whimsical rather than purposeful manner), allowing myself to be distracted by some other passing joy. Reassuringly, there were other pollinators carousing in the nectar, insects speckled yellow with the abundant pollen, bathing in the sunshine. Can you see the pollen on the underside of this little bug's belly?




Our meadows are left largely to nature, cut for hay once a year and at slightly different times each year. They are abundant with a rich and ever-changing tapestry of wild flowers animated by a rainbow of insects, home also to many birds and beasts.





I’ve been using the dandelions fresh in salads and stir fries and have already dried some flower heads, I love that they look so pretty in their vintage glass jam jar, little pops of sunshine. I use them too, not only for tisanes, but also instead of saffron in rice dishes, saving the precious saffron for when I have delicate tasting ceps (porcini mushrooms) to make a wonderfully indulgent risotto. My rice dishes, inspired by my years living in Andalucía, are so full of garlic, smoky paprika and tomatoes, the delicate saffron is completely lost, but the dried dandelion petals give the required deep, unctuous colour.




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Theses beauties in the basket are for the ultimate foraged gold indulgence; dandelion honey.


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Making dandelion honey


First of all, don’t wash the dandelions. The yellow pollen holds much of the taste and gives the beautiful honey colour. You will, of course, need to make sure they’re gathered from a place not favoured by dog walkers or sprayed with pesticides.


Spread the flowers out on a tea towel in the sun for half an hour to let any insects bimble off. Don’t leave them too long as the flowers will start to close.


It’s often debated whether to remove the green bases or not. They can give a slightly bitter taste, but the process is very time consuming and you risk losing the nectar, as well as having Simpson yellow fingers for a few days. I just pinch off the very bottom, greenest bit of the flower and any residual stem. I find this compromise gives a not unpleasant hint of Earl Grey tea, a counterbalance to the sweetness of the honey.


Method

  • Put the dandelion heads in a saucepan with the same amount of water and some wedges of lemon.

  • Bring just to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

  • Leave covered overnight or for a good few hours to make a dandelion tea.

  • Strain the mix through muslin.

  • Put the liquid into a heavy based pan with roughly the same weight of sugar. I like to use unrefined golden sugar.

  • Bring to a gentle boil for 15 minutes, stirring to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.

  • Test the liquid regularly to get the desired consistency, I see how it clings to the back of a cold metal spoon and like my honey runny. Remember it will thicken further as it cools.

  • When ready, pour into sterilised jars and seal.

  • Do not store in the fridge as it will crystallise.


How do you enjoy your dandelion honey? I'm heading off to the kitchen now to transform the dandelion tea that steeped overnight to honey and looking forward to it drizzled over warm crumpets or for breakfast with salty Normandy butter and French baguette, still warm from the boulangerie.


Do you have any other favourite uses for dandelions? I’d love to learn your recipes.


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