Spring continues to march forward at Cow Hill Cottage, and the gardening chore list grows each day. I find myself lingering later and later in the garden not only to meet the demands of the season but because of the warm sun and attractions of spring. The lilacs are in bloom and their aroma, as well as their visual show, discourage any thoughts of me leaving my garden chores early.
While preparing seed beds, I found a nice stand of dandelions within the wood chip paths between the raised beds. These common plants, considered by most to be the scourge of the well-manicured lawn, are both a curse and a blessing. As a weed, they are difficult to eradicate, but from a culinary point of view, they are a key ingredient in both the food culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch as well as the traditional European peasant.
Weeds have been a part of the peasant’s diet for hundreds of years, providing sustenance during lean times and a basis for tonics and medications. Within the context of the local Pennsylvania Dutch culture, the consumption of this bitter herb has always been associated with the celebration of Holy Week and Easter as well as a tonic for spring fever.
When I was young, one was often encouraged to make sure you had eaten your dandelion as, without it, spring fever would prevail. We were reminded, with much amusement, that spring fever was a result of all the iron in your body turning to lead and being deposited in your behind.
This spring, I have managed to enjoy this culinary tradition twice and believe I have both prevented spring fever and lightened my step a bit.
Wild greens like dandelion are often served with a Sweet and Sour Bacon Dressing, with hard boiled eggs, chopped spring onion, and sometimes fresh garden radishes. In my family, we prepare the Sweet and Sour Bacon Dressing more as a gravy to be served over boiled potatoes that often serves as a side dish to fried country ham. Both are delicious, and I encourage you to experience both.
As to the foraging of the greens, please gather them in an area that has not been treated with chemicals of any type, and be sure to wash the collected greens multiple times in fresh water to assure all grit and dirt have been purged. Manually inspect your crop, discarding any stems or other debris.
I have often heard that the greens become increasingly bitter as they grow larger, and the production of the familiar yellow flower is rumored to increase this bitterness as well. I myself do not find this to be the case, but when considering the salad version, I would think that the younger greens would be preferred over the tougher, more mature ones.
I’m providing my recipe for this simple country dish and hope that you find it as delicious as I do. Also, I believe I will sleep better tonight knowing that I have done my part in helping you to keep spring fever at bay and the lead from your behind.
Render on low heat ½ lb. of medium-diced smoked bacon until the bacon is just beginning to become crisp. I find a cast iron fry pan and a very low and slow approach is the secret to this part of the recipe.
When the bacon has crisped, sprinkle five to six tablespoons of flour over the bacon and stir into the rendered bacon fat to make a smooth roux, cooking for a few minutes to assure no raw flour taste remains.
Add together ½ cup cider vinegar, ½ cup of sugar, 2 beaten egg yolks, and 1 cup of water, and mix well. Add this mix to the bacon and roux in the fry pan over medium heat, stirring well until thickened.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add approximately 2 cups of the clean dandelion greens to the pan, turning the heat off so that the greens wilt slightly.
Pour over hot boiled potatoes and serve with a thick slice of fried ham of your choice. I myself prefer a smoked country-style sugar-cured ham.
If you have a variation of this recipe or some fond memories about eating wild greens, I’d love to hear from you.