Monday, May 2, 2011

Dandelion Greens

When I was a little girl, I used to help my grandfather forage for dandelion greens. We would gather bags and bags! Now, as an adult, I realize just how labor intensive this really was. But at the time, I was with my grandpa, and could have collected those greens all day long!  Once cleaned, my grandfather would cook them. If memory serves me, he would simply sauté them in olive oil and maybe a smidge of garlic. Simply delicious. I grew up loving these slightly bitter greens, and to eat them was quite normal to me.

So you can imagine my surprise, when several years later, I learned that not everyone felt the same way I did about the dandelion. I remember one particular afternoon, playing in the schoolyard. It was quite warm, and the kids were playing "Mama had a baby and it's head popped off!" with the dandelions. (We all know that game. . .don't we?!) What exactly transpired next isn't entirely clear in my head. I must have mentioned something about how yummy those greens tasted, because what I do remember is getting horribly teased. Apparently these children were not fortunate enough to have tasted lovingly prepared wild dandelions that they had harvested with their grandpa.

Poor them.

In retrospect I have come to realize several things:

#1: Although not knowing it at the time, I had a rather unique childhood. It was only as an adult that I could begin to appreciate my childhood experiences, especially those relative to the bounty of the simple, good earth. My grandfather was instrumental in that. And growing up on a farm influenced me greatly too. I would wander around on any given summer afternoon, sampling the goodness that the gooseberry bush, the rhubarb stalk and the birch leaf had to offer. At only seven or eight years old, I knew exactly where, amid our 80 acre spread, I could find any one of these delicacies. How about that!  I don't know many adults that could even identify a you?

#2: My grandfather was a fabulous cook. However unconventional it was in those days, he did a lot of cooking for their large family of five children (and later, a slew of grandchildren). With such a large family, economy was key. Foraging for something like dandelions was free, it was delicious, and it was nutritious. Today, dandelion greens are known to be high in Folate, Magnesium and Dietary Fiber. They support digestion, and are believed to have medicinal properties that reduce swelling and treat some viruses. In my grandfather's day, I'm sure they were just cheap. Cheap and good.

#3: What goes around comes around. Today, you can find dandelion greens at specialty markets for quite the price! And a quick search on the internet will produce many delectable recipes. But that wasn't always the case. What was once snubbed as a weed, is now a coveted culinary treat in many circles. Thank goodness our society is coming around again. Growing up in the late 70's as I did, I experienced first hand, a decline of our American culture. "Homemade" was happily traded for "Pre-made". As both parents began to enter the workplace, "quick and easy" became the status quo, and we quickly forgot pieces of our heritage. I am so happy to see a resurgence of all that is homemade, and a new-found appreciation for craftsmanship, detail and tradition.

Dandelions are good. And they are good for you. With pesticides and the plethora of chemicals out there today, I'm not sure I would forage wild greens as my grandfather and I did 35 years ago. But there are many markets that do carry them, and they can often be found at farmer's markets. While we are now starting to see these greens gain popularity and favor among cooks everywhere, for me, they have always held a special place in my heart, and on my plate.

1 comment:

  1. I don't recall being a big fan of dandelion greens but I do recall my step-grandfather gathering them and I did eat them. I remember eating some little red berries, think they were currents off a little bush that we had in our yard. I feel so fortunate having grown up in East Granby and having fresh veggies and fruits from the garden. I especially loved to pick the peas - unfortunately, by the time they got into the kitchen they were few and far between - so delicious to eat right out of the pod.