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Dandelion greens

As I write this, the weather is like true spring—rainy, damp and cold. I know that the rain is needed and it will make a difference in all of the great spring foods.

Spring is a wonderful time of the year for many reasons. In the last week I have been looking for and am now watching the dandelion greens and they are growing. The first part of my life I lived in subdivisions but I have a rural background because of all the time I spent with my grandparents on their farm.

Spring rural activities have to do with the fact that the temperature is getting warmer. There is more sun light, which means the grass is greening up. The bulbs, trees and shrubs are flowering. Of course there is the birth of many young animals.

But another part has everything to do with spring foods!

When many of you think of spring food, you think of grilling and making all that great tasting food that goes with grilled meats, baked beans, three-bean salad and potato salad.These are some of the first foods that we have from our gardens in Michiana.

The first food of spring that comes to mind for me is dandelion greens. The warmer weather has warmed the soil so the greens are growing. My grandparents always called wilted dandelions greens spring tonic. Dandelion greens are a spring food that have been eaten for years because they were the first salad-like food that grew and people were hungry for something that was fresh and like a salad. When people first started eating them they did not realize how good for them they were. Greens of all kinds are a great source of vitamins and minerals.

Spring is the only time to really enjoy fresh dandelions. This is when they are tender and mild flavored, but once they get close to blooming their flavor changes and they develop a strong flavor. Some of you will find it hard to believe but nowadays commercial dandelion greens are grown and used in spring salad mixes that you can buy in the grocery store. You have probably enjoyed them in a restaurant salad and not even noticed them.

Dandelion greens are also a great way to be living green with regard to the environment. You can dig them and eat them vs.spraying to kill them. Eating fresh dandelion greens is a great way to stretch your food dollars. Besides, dandelions and other greens are really good for you so you should eat more of them.

Because I have not seen them at local markets, you are going to have to dig or cut your own. There are a lot of different varieties of leaves to dig and there is a slight difference in their flavor. I suggest you look for dark green long leaves less than 1-inch wide. The leaves become bitter with age and need to be cooked to tame or mellow the flavor.

My mother taught me by showing me to do what she called “dry cleaning.” After cutting the root off, shake it and let all the dead leaves and everything else fall out of it. Pick through it before you begin rinsing the leaves, then rinse the greens well in several changes of water. Sort or pick through the stems and discard any of that are woody or thick.

My experience of eating dandelion greens is with the greens being wilted. The dressing is made with flour that is browned in bacon grease and then water, a little vinegar and sugar is added to the skillet. The dressing is cooked until it becomes a little thick, then the cleaned greens with as much of the water drained from them are cut into the dressing and just heated until they are wilted. The wilted greens are often served on mashed potatoes or with new red potatoes. The greens are garnished with slices of hard cooked eggs and crumbles of bacon. I have also enjoyed dandelion greens with a hot bacon dressing.

If you want to store the leaves I have found it best to sort through leaves when dry and store dry in the refrigerator crisper, then rinse several times before preparing. The greens will keep for two or three days.

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