Friday, May 1, 2009

Dandy Lion

Work has left me utterly and totally mentally drained. I'm looking forward to the weekend to re-charge my batteries. But, I've neglected my little blog all week. So, let me tell you a story about my dad.

My parents were married during World War II. Their wedding picture shows two remarkably pretty people - he in his army uniform, she in a navy blue suit with her hair swept up. Dad was a musician and a band leader and his job (military occupational specialty) was to entertain the troops who were fighting near the front. They would have seemed an odd pairing, I think. He grew up on the tough streets of Chicago, whereas my Mom was a country girl who raced her horse bareback across her father's farm fields, jumping streams and fences. Nevertheless...

There wasn't an instrument made that my father could not play, but his specialty was the trumpet - he was a true Cornet Man, and I am certain he seemed a little dangerous to my petite and Catholic-schooled mother. Perhaps that was part of the draw, thereby disproving the notion that girls always fall in love with Heathcliff but always marry Edgar Linton. I told the following story this Spring at another site. But since I must get back to the daily grind and finish a project, I'll cheat by repeating it once again:

The wonderful Wizard of Oz was on TV again this weekend; and, when the cowardly lion referred to himself as a "dandy lion," it reminded me once again of a ritual that was practiced by my Slovenian family (and, indeed, other neighborhood families with similar Eastern European roots) early every spring. At that time of year, my dad would venture into the forest preserves around the Chicago area to look for and harvest the young, tender dandelion leaves that had awakened after their winter sleep. He'd take large paper grocery bags and his knife - a wicked looking thing with a leather handle and a steel blade especially meant for dandelions - and off he would go to forage for the delicacy that the whole family eagerly awaited. Sometimes, he'd agree to take one of us kids along; but, he preferred going it alone, unimpeded by children who would necessarily divide his attention from the task at hand. Dad would start just before dawn, and would not return until the sun was low in the sky bringing with him bags filled to the top with the pungent greens. As it grew dark, aunts and uncles would arrive at the house to pick up their "share." I can still recall the earthy, musky, garden-y smell that came from those bags. My mother would dump our portion into the deep kitchen sink and begin the task of meticulously cleaning each blade. Dandelion "season" lasted for only a short time - before the leaves became too bitter and tough. I have lived through 60 springs, and dad has been gone for nearly 20 years. Yet, Spring remains "dandelion season" for me. After years of living in dandelion exile, I learned that I could buy organically grown dandelion greens in the produce section of the Fresh Market grocery store. I once again became a "dandelioness." In his dandelion hunting days, Dad would always reassure us that, "I know where no dogs go." I trusted him with the faith of a child back then. Although every once in a while, as I lay in bed at night - the bedroom windows open to the spring breezes - I'd entertain the disturbing thought, "How does he know that right now, in the dark, some dog has not found his dandelion crop?" Er...some ideas are better left unexplored.

You can harvest dandelion leaves from your own yard if (a) you do not have a dog or cat (b) do not use pesticides, and (c) do not use plants that are growing near a highway or roadway. However, if you are relying on your lawn for enough greens, you cannot have a reasonable expectation of a good harvest unless you have absolutely no "lawn pride" and your lawn is a source of irritation to your neighbors. Better to find a good, organic source. Dandelion greens are slightly bitter, like arugula/rocket.

Dandelion Salad:

Young, tender, preferably organic, dandelion greens (about as much as you would need if you were making a lettuce salad for 4).

6-8 slices of bacon
6-8 small new potatoes, unpeeled
4 eggs, hard cooked - they should still be warm
3 T. apple cider vinegar (preferably unfiltered)

Wash and thoroughly dry dandelion greens. Boil potatoes until tender. Cut into quarters. Cut hard cooked eggs into slices. Cut bacon into small pieces and fry until brown and crisp. Remove cooked bacon bits from pan, but reserve two tablespoons of bacon fat. Add cider vinegar to pan, whisk up the brown bits, until warm through. Add potatoes and eggs to greens, toss with warm dressing,sprinkle on the bacon. Eat immediately, while warm.


  1. I have to admit that I've never liked dandelion greens (to eat, that is...I do love that our yard becomes a blanket of yellow though). Anyway, despite the fact that I don't like eating them myself, I loved reading this post more than I can say! Your stories always fill me with such a warm feeling. Seriously. I somehow always leave here feeling warm and happy. Thank you.

  2. What a wonderful story! I have never eaten a dandelion leaf, and might find them hard to come by where I live, but I'll always think of your childhood dandelion hunts with your dad whenever I see them mentioned now!

  3. Dandelioness! I LOVE THAT. I don't think I've had the pleasure myself, but like Debi and Litlove, this heartwarming post makes me feel like I've feasted and had my fill. It's like a children's story... the forest, the flowers, the dashing hero... sigh.

  4. Debi, Litlove and Doctordi: I'm sorry I haven't been able to read your comments until today. I've been in bed sick (sniffle, cough) but am happy to say "I'm ba-a-a-a-ck." I must admit, I have some wonderful childhood memories...sometimes seen through the gauze of time, no doubt, but happy nevertheless.

  5. Oh Grad, sorry you've been sniffling and unwell, but glad you're on the up and up!

  6. Hey Grad, thanks for commenting on my blog. I always love hearing from new people. I enjoyed reading your meme and jotted down a few of your recommendations. I'll let you know how I like them!

  7. Welcome, Janell. I liked your blog very much and look forward to staying in touch.

  8. Wonderful story! I love dandelion greens. I purposely tried to grow some fancy French dandelions from seed in the garden once and believe it or not none of them sprouted! My lawn, however, is covered with the sunny yellow flowers but I do not trust them due to recently departed dog, free roaming neighborhood cats, and now the rabbit that has taken up residence in our yard. So I buy them in the produce section of my natural foods store. Yum!