Dandy ways to use a common weed

Dandelions are the bane of most gardeners’ existence. The plants are deep rooted and difficult to control without resorting to herbicides (and even then it can be a struggle). Every spring they dot my yard, and I dutifully dig out as many as I can (after the bees have had their first feedings). Instead of throwing them away, however, this year I used dozens of the flowers to make dandelion jelly. If this intrigues you, head over to Gastro Obscura, where Anne Ewbank discusses the merits of this confiture, known as cramaillotte or miel de pissenlit in France.

Dandelion jelly has a long history, possibly originating in medieval Europe as a form of herbal medicine. The roots of the plant are often used in traditional medicine, although the jelly is usually made with the sunny yellow flowers. People describe the flavor of dandelion jelly as akin to honey, and it is often used as a substitute for honey in cooking and baking.

There are a couple of ways to make this preserve: the French typically boil the flowers with citrus fruit, while Americans generally steep the flowers in water to make a “tea” to which citrus juice and pectin is added. I had a little trouble getting mine to set (I didn’t accurately measure the pectin), and I think I over-steeped the dandelions because I found the flavor to be a bit strong (I had to leave them for a couple of days in the fridge). The herbal lemon flavor was intriguing – no one would ever guess what it was – and my husband enjoyed it in his tea. I used a recipe similar to the Dandelion jam by Marissa McClellan and Miche Bacher pictured above.

There are many other ways to use dandelions in the culinary sphere. The EYB Library has a total of 1,780 recipes that call for dandelions, with 240 of them available online. They cover a wide range of dish types, from Quick-pickled dandelion flower buds (Dandelion capers) from The Moose Curry Experience to Dandelion muffins from Cooking with Flowers by Miche Bacher to Risotto with dandelion greens (Risotto al tarassaco) from Honest Cooking. When you cook with dandelions, pulling them seems a bit less like a chore and bit more like a garden harvest (but it’s still hard work).

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