It’s About That Time:
(c) 2014, Davd
I’ve delayed a couple other blogs because the dandelions are in bloom—and this recipe is useless the rest of the year. This is a more difficult technique than the other Bachelor Cooking posts, but you can’t make dandelion wine without fresh dandelion flowers… use it now or wait until next spring.
This is written for people [mostly men, that i have seen] with cooking knowledge but little or no wine- and beer-making experience beyond following the directions for a kit. The how-to will be lengthy and some of you will already know some of what i specify, and why—but it’s better to err on the side of excess detail than to have someone miss an important precaution and spoil a jug of wine. Grape-wine vinegar and malt vinegar are valuable; dandelion vinegar, i doubt it.
‣ a 160oz., 4litre, or US gallon clean glass or plastic jug, (or if you’re ambitious and confident, a 23 litre/5 gallon “carboy”. Glass jugs are best; the old 4-litre plastic milk jugs, cleaned and sterilized, work well.)
‣a generous equal amount of blossoms [let them settle; do not push down] in a food-grade plastic container, typically a 4l ice-cream pail.
‣3 pounds of sugar, or 2.5# for a dry version; limit to 2# for the first invert (so as not to overload the yeast)
‣1 medium-large or 2 small-medium stalks of rhubarb, or alternatively, 1/2 grapefruit, per 2# sugar..
‣ a kitchen pot, 4l or larger, with lid; strainer, maybe a slotted spoon .. things you should have in most
First, go out and pick that pail full of good, wide-open or early almost-wide-open dandelion blossoms. They will be open only on a sunny day, and mid-day is the time to pick. They open gradually in the morning, and after mid-afternoon they will start to close. Pick the flowers only, pinching off the stem with your fingernails. Let the flowers settle naturally in the pail; don’t push down on them but don’t fluff them up either. When with that natural settling, the pail is full, you have enough.
Either right before or soon after you pick the blossoms, put some wine yeast into a solution of orange juice, or malt syrup and water [without any hops] or white grape juice—some fruit or malt sugar solution that will give the yeast a good start. Set on top of the fridge or in some other spot that will be above 20C most of the time [but below 40C]. (Beer yeast, i’ll guess, would work; don’t try baker’s yeast and blame me if it fails.)
(You do not need a whole “7 gram” envelope of yeast, if you use this trick. When making up a wine kit whose “best before” date is several months in the future, i often save a wee bit of the yeast in the packet, fold and staple the packet, and keep it in the fridge until needed.)
Bring about 3 l of water to boiling, then pour over the blossoms. I have found ice cream pails do take the heat, which of course is 10 degrees or more below boiling by the time it gets through the blossoms to the bottom. (Set the pail on a piece of plywood or a wide board rather than on heavy metal which will carry away the heat too quickly.. a wooden counter-top should be OK, with or without arborite/formica) Cover the pail lightly with its lid; if you snap it shut expansion and contraction will “give you grief.”
Take the same pan that boiled that plain water (or you might prefer to use a smaller one,) add 2# of sugar and the rhubarb, and just enough water to dissolve the sugar [a cup or two should do]. Bring to boil on medium heat, adding the rhubarb cut 1″long or shorter; simmer about 10-15#. The sugar should turn a tan “straw colour.” Cover the pan and set it to cool—in this case, setting it on a heavy metal woodstove that’s not hot, will help it cool sooner. You want the flowers to stay hot for a while for their flavour to go into the water, but the ldquo;inverted” sugar needs no such “steeping.”
(lemon juice or a small grapefruit sliced 1 cm or thinner will serve for the acid; i specify rhubarb to make the recipe as locally sourced as practicable.)
Sterilize the jug with bleach solution, washing first if it was dirty. For me this is no hassle because i do it often in making beer and wine. An ounce or two of bleach with 2-3 times that much tap water should do; and when this has been shaken or rotated to contact all the inside surfaces of the bottle, pour it through a funnel into a glass jar; rinse with clean tapwater or rainwater, pour that into the same jar, and put it in the laundry area for use soaking something, or in the kitchen to clean up dirty corks, bottlecaps, Scotchbrite pads, vegetable brushes, etc. ad lib…
Remember this basic technique because you will use it to sterilize the bottles when the wine is ready for bottling. In the case of bottling, you should use the bleach followed by clear water, to clean the siphon, en route to the first bottle; and the same bleach-water mixture can sterilize all the bottles.
Bleach decomposes into salt and oxygen; and a minuscule bit of salt in the wine will not degrade the taste the way sulphite sterilizing chemicals will. Beer-making may actually benefit minutely from the residual salt.
When the inverted sugar is cool enough that you can comfortably hold the body of the pot in your bare hands, you can pour it into the sterilized jug. Strain out the rhubarb (I pour the sugar through a strainer and funnel, into the jug, then set the rhubarb aside to later sweeten cooked rhubarb. Rhubarb will be too soft for candy: The rind of grapefruit used to invert sugar, can be cooled, cut up, and treated as sticky candy.) Then strain the “dandelion tea” into that same cooking pot, where it will take up the sugar that stuck to it when you poured most of the batch into the jug. You may have to strain the dandelion water in two or three “gos”.
When the dandelion “tea” is cool enough that you can comfortably hold the body of the pot in your bare hands, you can pour it into the sterilized jug. Using this order, you’ll get nearly 100% of the sugar into the jug, and leave the pan clean enough to use again.
Cover the jug with a clean plastic bag [a new sandwich or food bag you can later use for ordinary food] and a rubber-band, if you haven’t a clean cap for it. The bag and elastic can be used as a fermentation lock later, or you can fit a regular fermentation lock if you have one.
(If there is quite a lot of airspace still in the jug, you can “sparge” the dandelions with clean water, pour into and swirl through the pot if it is still sticky or direct into the jug if the pot is clean. Leave enough space that you can later add another half pound to pound of inverted sugar when the yeast has used up much of the first sugar; (too strong an initial sugar content can slow or stop the yeast.)
When the temperature of the jug is slightly warm to the hand but not to the cheek [about 25-30C, 35 should not hurt the yeast) and the yeast has begun to bubble the orange juice, add it through the funnel and follow with a small rinse of clean water or spargings. Leave enough room for the later sugar. If you have to let the jug cool to 20C before the yeast is ready, that should not hurt.
Keep the fermenting dandelion-tea in a place where its temperature will be 18-25C… a little cooler at night should not hurt if the daytime temperature reaches over 20 for 5-10 hours. 25C is better for the very first days, and cooler after the fermenting is well started. There is usually a warm spot in most kitchens where the jug can spend its first two weeks.
After 2-3 weeks, when the ferment is starting to slow*, simmer 1/2 — 1 pound more sugar with water, making a “winemaker’s syrup”. Inverting it will help the wine finish sooner but by now is not totally essential. When it has cooled below body temperature [can still be warm to the hand] pour it into the jug, and if there is still room in the jug, rinse the pot with clean water as above.
(If you make more than one jug of the wine, you can top-up the sugar for them all at the same time—saves bother.)
Expect the wine to spend 2-3 months in the jug*, after which sterilize your siphon and five wine bottles [750 ml/25-26 oz] per gallon. Siphon the wine into the bottles [with the siphon bottom above the dregs until the last] and cork. Rubber caps will work; for ageing real corks softened [and sterilized] in gently boiling water and put in with a real cork driver, are best.
I have typically used up my dandelion wine over the fall and winter, and i doubt i’ve ever aged any past a year. It resembles a white equivalent of Dubonnet or Campari, made as above; if you think you would like a more bitter variation on dry sherry you could skip the second lot of sugar. I’d not recommend it as a table ine with most substantial-food, rather as a “social wine” or semi-tonic.
Think of this text as being under some terms like the GNU Free Documentation License.. use and improve it freely, don’t profiteer or restrict, let me know of the improvements, and don’t restrict any improved versions. The recipe is original with me, based on notes made between 2006 and now.
* Dandelion wine tends to ferment more slowly than grape wine or beer does.
# is a common abbreviation for “pound[s]” and l for litre[s].