things I haven’t posted about this spring

The fact that hop shoots, one of the very first edible greens of spring, which grow like evil weeds and demand to be thinned, and which, in late summer, you can flavor beer with, are not nearly widely enough cultivated.

The fact that those potted forget-me-nots I never got around to putting in the ground last year, which died, went to seed first, and are now growing beautifully, all over the place—not exactly the dawn of a new gardening paradigm, but certainly another proof of concept.

That arugula flowers are gorgeous. A couple overwintered in the herb garden, so we’re letting them go to seed. Also, a cabbage, living in what’s now a carrot patch.

Maple syrup, and how, if you have a wood stove, and even only one maple tree with a circumference over ten inches, you really, really, have no good reason not to be sugaring.

About the various wild greens we’ve been eating, and the various ways we’ve been eating them. And how keen I am on wild greens. Like, intellectually. For the sake of cuisine.

My budding thoughts on honest, genuine cuisine, as a local phenomenon—what gave rise to it, what gives rise to it, whether it is rising and what that might mean.

Further thoughts on cooking fats. How olive oil has become an imported luxury in my house. How I have no understanding of the subtleties of cooking with butter. How, in fact, primitive the cooking is in my house.

About the possible addition of a new category, the easiest thing in the world, detailing “recipes” for things which really ought not to need them, and are like fast food in my primitive house.

A number of primitive thoughts, I have had.

dandelion wine

Notice (4/15/10): This post contains content that the author saw fit to amend in the comments.

It’s dandelion season at my house. Dandelion wine can be really bad. Or it can stand in for a nice light rosé, on a hot day now and again. Save you some dollars, for the good stuff.

Well, here’s the basics. You make a sweet tea out of dandelion heads, being careful not to include any stem. The better the tea, the better the wine—pretty straightforward so far, yes? I think I used about 1.5 pounds of sugar per gallon last year. Anywhere around there will ferment dry, do good service.

Put your sweet tea into a crock or stock pot or something like, put it somewhere dim with good air, and stir it at least twice a day, vigorously, to incorporate air and ambient yeasts. Do this until it starts sending up a good bubbling, then strain it into a nice clean jug or carboy, set an air-lock on it, and put it away somewhere dark and cool.

Once it stops bubbling, might be a few weeks or a few months, you can bottle it. If you leave it in the jug for a long time, though, make sure the water in your air-lock doesn’t evaporate, or else you’ll have a whole lot of really nice dandelion vinegar. Which, I am sure, would be absolutely lovely on salad. In fact, I think I might set aside a half gallon this year for just that.

When you bottle it, you might want to stir in a little sugar just beforehand, to give it a little fizz. Maybe 1 or 2 eighths cup per gallon, depending. Once you get up toward an eighth, you’re probably going to want to bottle with caps, rather than corks.

That’s about it. They will improve with time for a little, if you keep them somewhere dark and cool. Try to save most of them for summer.


Last year I believe I advocated adding a dash of lemon juice, to cut the slightly cloying character of dandelions. You might try this but I’ve come to see it as a bit inelegant. I’m planning on running some experiments using dandelion leaves and roots, to balance it out with a little bitterness. But last year I used only the petals, whereas this year I’m going to try whole heads, so maybe further augmentation won’t be necessary. Judge for yourself.

Johnson’s Winter (York) apple

johnsons winter

Found this lovely apple at a market in Blacksburg. Had good flavor, good crispness, and a shape so ridiculously charismatic that I figured I’d have to grow it, whatever it was. Did a little research, and it turns out the name is obsolete… an old corruption (possibly) of Jonathan’s Winter, which in turn was the original name for what is currently (apparently) one of the ten most commonly grown apples in the country: the York Imperial. Funny that it still gets sold under that old name sometimes. The reason most people haven’t heard of it despite its being a top tenner is that it generally goes into applesauce. Still, I’ll grow it.

many homely barometrical signs

“The use of a barometer is of doubtful utility to the farmer, but there are many homely barometrical signs that should not be neglected. The changes of the wind; the course of the clouds; the smoke beating to the ground; the circle around the moon; the flight of birds, both wild and domestic; the hurrying home of bees when a sudden shower approaches; the actions of domestic animals, swine in particular; the acute pains felt by rheumatic persons at the approach of storms; the absence or excess of moisture in the atmosphere, as indicated by the rapid evaporation of boiling water when the air is dry, or ready condensation upon the cold-water pitcher when it is moist; the peculiar sighing of the wind; the turning up of the leaves of the forest before a storm, and many more indications of change, should all be studied, better understood, and used to the farmer’s benefit.”

—Solon Robinson, Facts for Farmers. (New York: A. J. Johnson, 1870.)

peppercress, again


My yard is lousy with it. I like to eat the whole spinney, just take a bite holding by the base. Dip in salad dressing, if you like.