Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Dandelion Jelly

Today we worked on a project that I've wanted to do with the girls for a long time. The name of this blog was inspired by a story I read in the New Yorker about foraging for food (read it here) and today was our first experience foraging for edible flowers and making something delicious with them.  We made dandelion jelly!

Dandelions may be the scourge of people trying to grow a nice lawn and of gardeners, but they are actually useful and edible plants.  They are also very popular with children, at least mine.  First of all kids think the flowers are beautiful, no one ever objects to them picking them, and the flowers turn into fluffy cotton balls of seeds they can blow all over the place.  In fact Jo admonished me for picking too many yellow flowers today; she's worried there won't be enough "blowing dandelions" if we pick all the yellow ones right now.  A dandelion conservationist!

Curiously, and probably because it's only mid-March, although it feels like May, we really had to hunt for the dandelions.  We walked all around our neighborhood and visited two parks to collect enough to make a small jar of jelly. It was pretty fun just hunting for them, and the girls were able to basically pick all of them. We collected them in a basket and brought them home to clean and pick.

First we rinsed them in water, gently. This made them look really soggy and wilted, but I couldn't bring myself to let them steep in water and use that for jelly without first soaking and wiping them off.  Then I cut the tops off the stem and pulled the flower out of the green stem.  The stems are bitter, so you want to use just the flower, no green stuff.  The girls helped with this, but it is tedious, so they mostly watched me do it.  Jo did think it was so cool to see the blowing dandelion parts buried inside the yellow flower.

I used this recipe, but I cut it in half, because we only collected a cup worth of dandelion petals.  You might want to double it if you're making these as gifts, but if you cut it in half, like I did, it'll make a small amount you can put in a jar and use right away.  I don't have canning equipment, but this jelly will definitely last in your fridge for the time it takes you to eat it.  It's really quick and easy to make once you have the flowers picked, and separated from the stem.

In a nutshell I boiled the flowers in a cup of water for ten minutes, and then strained the infusion and tossed the flowers out. Then I put the infusion back in the kettle and added half a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pectin and cooked it, stirring with a wooden spoon. I cooked it for longer than the recipe says, and it seems to have set up okay.  I have not made jelly much so I'm a novice. Once finished I poured the jelly into a glass jar and let it cool, storing in once it cooled in the fridge. The stuff is delicious!  Really good.  The girls thought it tasted like honey, and I agree.  It really is a fun project and I think it's nice to teach the girls about hidden treasures in things we see all around us and take for granted, and even disparage. Although honestly I think this is really a message for me, because to the girls the dandelion is actually beloved.

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