As Eleanor turned into the driveway, I couldn't help but notice the reeds and grasses that waved in the wind from the box attached to the back of her motorcycle. Neither could her husband, Harold, with whom I was chatting when she arrived home loaded with her daily roadside harvest.
"Man, what I wouldn't give for some good old meat and potatoes," Harold groaned as he "anticipated" the greens and tubers that would be gracing the supper table for the next couple days. It was years before I shared with my wonderful friend what her husband had said.
Eleanor Campbell and I were, back in the 1960's and 1970's, great outdoor buddies. She loved every facet of the outdoors except hunting and I loved hunting. So we'd spend a couple days a week in the woods, she listening for birds and looking for wild edible weeds, while I looked for tracks and trails and listened for turkeys gobbling.
Eleanor now roams the hills of heaven and I miss by first outdoor buddy terribly. However, when we lived next door to each other back then, I always found a way to skirt around any dinner invitations that included eating dandelions.
You see, I have another vivid memory, this one from childhood. My mother loved to gather young dandelions and cook them with some kind of sauce that I utterly detested. Since my parents were sure I was just being stubborn when I said I hated them, I was forced to finish whatever they put on my plate. I remember well sitting at the supper table until midnight with a plate of cold dandelions in front of me. I determined that when I grew up, I'd never again eat dandelions and I never have. It's a matter of principle with me now.
But I do know that many of you wait eagerly for the young dandelions to show through the snow and ice. I saw crocuses and daffodils already quite far above the ground the other day and I delighted at scuffing up a couple dandelions that dared to show themselves in my yard.
1 cup flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk
3/4 cup dandelion petals (Remove yellow petals from green base)
2 TBSP. melted butter
Sift dry ingredients together, beat in egg, milk and dandelion petals. Melt butter and add to mixture. Makes about a dozen pancakes.
If dandelion root coffee appeals to you, dig one pound dandelion roots. Scrub thoroughly under cold water. Dry roots on a cooking sheet in 225 degree oven for five hours or until they are discolored and brittle. Grind roots in coffee mill and brew as coffee using on 3/4 as much as you would with regular coffee.
In a few short weeks the naturalists will be out gathering the young, tender shoots of all kinds of things. I seem to be blessed with friends who delight in doing such stuff. Connie Mertz, an outdoor writer colleague and great friend of mine who lives in Danville, is great at sniffing out all sorts of edible goodies. I confess that I will be in big trouble if ever I am in a survival situation in the wilderness somewhere because I won't have an idea what to eat and what to avoid.
But Connie especially loves to use violets, yes ordinary violets, that I will see everywhere when I am spring gobbler hunting. She tells me that a cup of the common blue violets has as much vitamin C as four oranges. So obviously, they are good for the common spring cold.
Connie makes a really wonderful pancake syrup from violets. I love it (I eat this stuff if someone else finds it, harvests it, cleans it, cooks it and then gives some to me) and in fact, I cherish it if a friend gives me a tad. Just fill a quart jar with violet blossoms, packing in as many as you can. To the flowers, add just enough boiling water to cover and let stand 24 hours with the jar capped tightly.
If that concoction doesn't explode, strain the purple juice, add the juice of one half lemon and two cups of sugar to each cup of violet liquid. Simply bring the whole thing to a boil and then seal it in pint jars.
Connie also makes a violet ade by using four or five tablespoons of the syrup in a glass of iced water. The violet syrup can be used to flavor Jell-O or poured over ice cream or cake and some folks even make violet jelly.
I'm going to share a couple recipes for using dandelions although I can assure you I won't be using them. But they have been tested by those who are up for this sort of thing. It's comical to me because I have a lot of friends who turn their nose up at eating wild meat but will sit down to a meal of dandelion pancakes. There's no explaining it.