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I dig dandelions (and apricot blossoms)

April 23, 2010

Spring at 6512 feet is like taking Amtrak rather than an airplane to your destination. It’s a slow, pleasing journey with plenty of station stops at which to peer out a window and notice the first lemon-yellow goldfinches returning.

You could even take a long nap–for like three days–and barely miss anything. In fact, I’ve been milling around the garden beds–where pea, lettuce and carrot seeds have been pushed into the soil quite awhile ago–humming a little tune that could be translated as “hellooooo? where the hell is everyone?”

Apricot blossoms: the first flowering fruit trees, like little lights being switched on all over the county

Every night I cut chives into our meals from the singular clump fountaining up from the ground and say, repetitively and with annoying good cheer, “isn’t it great to be eating right from our garden?”

The thing is, at 6512 feet it still freezes in April, every night. And maybe you live somewhere where it never freezes, or where you get a cute, occasional frost in January, or even where winter nights are below 32F but come April, spring is popping like corn kernels in a dutch oven.

Well. Here’s what I woke to yesterday morning, April 22nd:

Uh huh. And this:

shake it off chokecherry, shake it off!

Pea sprout in situ

But no one was shocked, and just like the tulips, the chokecherries and the chives that are saving us from scurvy, we brushed it off and shivered our way through the morning while playing “jackets on-jackets off-jackets on-jackets off.” And really, most of April has been absolutely lovely. Most afternoons we file outside to look for ladybugs (Col), strip naked and fight the chickens for kitchen scraps (Rose), or whisper encouraging words to the pea sprouts (me).

In the past month we’ve found a lost civilization in our melted yard: sandbox, swing set, mini trampoline. I feel like an archeologist upon making an exciting discovery: “This may have been a place where…children played!”

But those arctic nights do slow things down. We’re usually not harvesting our first silky, salad lettuce until late May, so it is now that I turn to an old, garden party-crasher friend of mine, whom I’m sure you know very well.

You called?

The dandelion is the warrior of the garden. The leaves of dandelions are delicious when picked young. Their long tap roots pull up vitamins and minerals from the soil and they’re chock-full of Vitamin A, B and C, and also iron and potassium. They have more calcium than milk, cup for cup. And the slight bitterness makes for a good digestive tonic. We typically eat them raw–coated with salad dressing–but you can also use them as you would cooked spinach, in lasagna, soups, casseroles.

And my goodness, they’re free! Planted by the wind, rain and sun, all you do is show up with your scissors. (I even saw my neighbor Sage, sneaking around the neighborhood yesterday morning with scissors and basket on a dandelion hunt).

I’m pleased to report that the indoctrination of small children is going well around here. Col was spotted digging dandelions out of our lawn for salad last week. (Lawn being a loose term connoting a few sprigs of grass gasping for air amidst copious dandelions, clover and alfalfa)

My parents, who were visiting and watching the kids, said “Really? Dandelions? No Col, no one eats dandelions.”

Even Rose, on whom we obviously need to step up our efforts, said “Yuck Coley, we not going to eat dem.”

But my boy persisted–amidst snickers and protests–pulling the jagged green leaves and dropping them in a bucket re-purposed from the sandbox. He washed them and presented them to me when I returned.

with a face like that, I'd probably eat anything he had to offer

We added shredded carrots and mung bean sprouts and a not so dainty smothering of homemade miso-mayo dressing.

And even my mom loved it. You could say she ate her words.

Guess who else likes dandelions?

Dandelions and apricot blossoms seem to be the epitome of spring. (unless you’re my mother-in-law in New Jersey and you’ve got all sorts of garden veggies winking up through the soil).

Still Life with apricot blossoms and dandelion salad

Perhaps, like the bumblebee, we can begin to see these sunny yellow heads as gold in our lawns and gardens.  And when we are left with the fuzzy, white seed puffs, may we, like the children, see millions of wishes to be set free on the wind.

Have a sunny weekend with just the right bite of bitter greens!

36 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2010 7:52 am

    Oh my, you are such a lovely writer! Breathtaking! And I have to say I am jealous of your apricot blossoms (the trees won’t even grow here in Maine). We are having a shockingly early spring this year (except for a flurry of snow Saturday morning that blanketed the daffodils). And thanks for reminding me I should actually USE those chives I noticed (to steal your phrase) fountaining out of the ground this morning.

  2. April 23, 2010 8:20 am

    What a beautiful ode to apricot blossoms and dandelions. Now I feel the need to hunt down an apricot tree for my yard! I’m pretty sure they grow well in OHio.

    Our dandys are starting to puff, which puts me in a panic every year. They are my favorite wild edible of all and i use every bit of them.

    Oh, and those mung sprouts look great. Need a sprouter too…..geez, I come over here in great want….I know what I’m spending my birthday money on. :)


  3. April 23, 2010 8:42 am

    We had cheeks and lips covered with beautiful yellow dandelion dust just yesterday. Having kids has made me see the beauty in the dandelion.
    Off to gather leaves and make a delicious looking dandelion green salad tonight, thanks to your post.

  4. April 23, 2010 9:39 am

    That looks like a delicious salad. I would totally eat that up!! Spring looks like yours, a little faster. We’re at about 4,000 feet. I really need to start planting my garden!! My kids aren’t into dandelions, although I will suggest it. They do love to pick baby tumbleweeds which are edible and good in salads. Do you have tumbleweeds in your area?

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 23, 2010 3:46 pm

      Kyndale, just because my kids like to *pick* dandelions doesn’t mean they’ll eat them (although I caught Rose with some yellow petals in her mouth yesterday). And no tumbleweeds here, we’d have to venture a little west into Utah or Arizona.

  5. April 23, 2010 9:51 am

    Beautiful, as usual!

  6. Anonymous permalink
    April 23, 2010 10:08 am

    Oh Rachel! I do love your style! :) The look on Col’s face as he’s presenting the greens is priceless! The way his eyebrows are pinched up in the middle, you can just feel him holding his breath waiting for you to burst out with accolades at a job well done! I love that! I’m also happy to know that someone else has a slow spring. While I’ve got veggies growing year-round, I do love that my blossoms come late and stay longer than anywhere else I’ve seen around here. For example, I have a wisteria vine and one year, I noticed that mine didn’t bloom until a month and a half after a friend’s in Willow creek, and 3 weeks after one just down the road. Those vines kept their blossoms for 2 days and 1 week respectively, while mine had flowers for a month! SO, you’ve helped me to remember why I don’t mind living in near-total shade! Thanks for your lovely thoughts and eloquent writing!

  7. April 23, 2010 12:08 pm

    I can honestly say I have never, ever thought to eat dandelions. And, boy, do they love our yard. Could you post that recipe?? Also, I bet little naked Rose gives those chickens a run for their money! =>

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 23, 2010 3:46 pm

      Stacia, just go for the young ones–pre flowering, you may have to look in the shady spots since spring in TX is probably well underway. Douse with salad dressing, sprinkle in fun add-in’s like dried cherries and sunflower seeds. Tell your family it’s an expensive new lettuce green from Whole Foods.

  8. April 23, 2010 1:06 pm

    I agree with Andrea, your writing is so beautiful! It’s so moving, tender, and thoughtful. The apricot trees there are beautiful. Here, in Bloomington, Indiana, the Dogwoods and Crab Apple and Snowball and Lilac are in bloom. Near our home, we have a Lilac and Snowball that are beautiful. I should take some pictures and put them up. I love the idea of eating Dandelion leaves, though most of our Dandelions are going to seed now. I’m sure I might be able to find some though. I’ll have to look :).

    Thank you for the beautiful post and for visiting my blog.

  9. April 23, 2010 1:18 pm

    fascinating analogy of life at thousands of feet! it’s like nature vs. nature. the snow wants to win. the flowers want to win. only one will. and you will get to witness who does!

  10. April 23, 2010 1:37 pm

    So, is it crazy that I never knew you could eat dandelions? Now I’m tempted to try. Although my luck, I’d probably get one with a bug hiding in it.

  11. April 23, 2010 1:40 pm

    Mmm..dandelion greens. They’re everywhere here too, except people also like to walk their dogs in these parts so there’s no telling which dandelion is pee-free. Just to be safe, we get ours from the grocery store. Ironic, considering they’re everywhere, and like you said, free!

    Stupid city folk and their dogs! (I have one too…)

  12. April 23, 2010 3:54 pm

    Apricot blossoms~~beautiful!

    I lived in Santa Fe and remember those frosty, high-elevation mornings well. Down here at 5280, life is warming up. Now if only the rain would let up!

    Happy weekend to you , too.

  13. Melissa permalink
    April 23, 2010 4:20 pm

    Oh, you and your luscious writing (:

    I also love the photo of Col expectantly offering the goods to mama–so sweet!

    Sigh. My arugula lunch from TJs was good, sure, but our urban life is feeling a little too urban at the moment. And don’t get my husband started. Baby steps (no pun intended). . . you continue to inspire me, though, so thank you!

  14. April 23, 2010 4:37 pm

    Now, I have to try some dandelion!

  15. April 23, 2010 4:57 pm

    I wish I was on as good of terms with my dandilions as you are yours. I’ve turned into a scrooge who now instead of million wishes blowing in the wind sees a million more dandilions I’m going to have to bend and stoop and dig up.

    I remember back in the day of Bayfield living, my neighbors would drive by and joke about the salad I could make with all the damn plants I was out there picking. And seeing them take over the wild mountainsides choking out indiginous species always made them even less palatable.

    As always though, you are a beautiful reminder of appreciating nature’s simple gifts. Cheers to you my friend, master whittler of words!!

  16. April 23, 2010 6:08 pm

    I don’t pick dandelions for dinner, but would never say no to a meal of them. And I don’t grow things, other than my children. But somehow even I connected with this. Your writing is full of charm and wit.

  17. April 23, 2010 6:08 pm

    Hmmm….going to have to pick some dandelion greens to add to our salad tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll tell anyone what they are until after dinner though! Yesterday we made soup with the leeks growing in the woods around my parents house, my mom thought we were crazy too. We’re going looking for morel mushrooms in the morning. Ah, the woods – one stop shopping!

  18. April 23, 2010 6:30 pm

    I loved this. The blossoms are beautiful. We are still getting cold nights here in Michigan, but at least no snow where we are. Great photos.

  19. shadymama permalink
    April 23, 2010 7:03 pm

    yay dandelions! i also just wrote a little post about the joys of food grown and food found – i do love gardening! also, are you going to hit the dandelion festival this year? it was a total.blast. last year and dandelion beer is *delicious*. enjoy the spring!

  20. shadymama permalink
    April 23, 2010 7:11 pm

    ummm – don’t know why that shadymama goes to a shut down blog? but i’m over at aftml.wordpress! :)

  21. Ellen permalink
    April 24, 2010 4:01 pm

    The most amazing thing is that Col knew that dandelions were good despite objections from the seemingly all-knowing grownups; such good knowledge of the natural world and inner strength.

    And dandelion leaves ARE good. They sell at the Berkeley farmers market for $1.75 and are really wonderful as a salad. Also supposedly good stir fried in olive oil with garlic.

  22. ike permalink
    April 24, 2010 4:14 pm

    Great writing -your connection to the natural world and all the beings in it is palpable. I was also doubtful about why Col was gathering the dandelions. H eworked so hard and was so intent on gathering them for you that I just watched him with admiration.
    By the way a friend of mine used to make dandelion wine.Have you heard of anyone doing that?

  23. April 26, 2010 3:05 pm

    another great post. children . . . must have . . . played here! hillarious! and i’ve got the exact same attitude toward my chives, a sort of overarching gratitude for the one edible thing growing.

    i’m afraid to eat our dandelion leaves because, although we have one hundred million dandelions, and although we don’t use chemicals, everyone around us does.

    AND i’ve just learned that i’ll be spending a week or so at 6512 feet this summer!!! i will find you, lady. i will find you.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 26, 2010 10:00 pm

      Terri – you could follow the scent of roadkill and clumps of floating dandelion seeds to my house…or I could just give you my #. (that is actually very exciting!)

  24. Dan permalink*
    May 10, 2010 9:54 pm

    V. nice job rachie, love Dan

  25. May 12, 2010 6:22 am

    In France, where I lived 25 years, you could see old women, by the side of the road, searching for dandelions. I loved the fact that you turned your son’s offering into a salad!

  26. May 17, 2010 3:01 pm

    Mmm…mayo-miso dressing sounds perfect with dandelion greens. Thanks for visiting my blog, Rachel!

  27. May 22, 2010 2:04 pm

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  28. Carla permalink
    May 22, 2010 4:43 pm

    What beautiful photos of the garden.


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