Spring Tonic

By Sarah Heffner.

Dandelion greens are a traditional fresh “spring tonic” that were welcome after a winter diet of root vegetables from the cold cellar and canned goods from the shelves in the basement. The greens are high in nutrients, even more than kale and broccoli. They are somewhat of an acquired taste but many consider them a springtime delicacy.

Check out this article: Dandelions, One of the Healthiest Foods on the Planet

Growing up, I enjoyed picking the bacon out of the dressing but had to shove the remaining greens into mashed potatoes so I could manage to eat them. The young greens can be harvested from lawns and fields as soon as the greens are large enough to dig out of the soil. (Be sure to harvest only from areas that have not been treated with pesticides.) My mother had one knife that was her special “dandelion knife” for digging and cutting greens. The greens from larger plants that have bloomed will be bitter in taste.

Pick dandelion greens before they bloom. Photo by Sarah Heffner.
Bacon and vinegar are important to PA Dutch cooking! Photo from Pennsylvania Dutch Food Ways Project, Goschenhoppen Historians, 2008.

Emma Derstein’s dandelion dressing

This recipe from the late Emma O. Derstein of Hatfield, PA was slightly modified by her daughter Ruth G. Alderfer of Harleysville. Ruth and her sister-in-law Gladys Moyer had a dandelion dinner menu that was an annual tradition in their family. The menu included stewed rhubarb or applesauce, dandelion with dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, baked ham, and rolls with butter. This was followed by homemade coconut cream or lemon meringue pie and coffee.

½ lb. bacon
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ cup milk
¼ cup vinegar

dandelion greens
hard boiled eggs for garnish

Fry bacon and drain and reserve the fat. Mix together the other ingredients and add to pan with the bacon drippings; cook until thickened. Stir in cleaned and chopped dandelion greens, garnish with hard boiled eggs, and the crumbled bacon.

Harvesting dandelion at the Eastern Mennonite Home, Souderton, 1924. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection.

Ron Treichler’s Dandelion Wine

Dandelion flowers can be harvested to make dandelion wine.

From the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival Cookbook

Take 6 qts. dandelion blossoms.
Take 4 qts. water.
Soak 3 days and 3 nights.
Strain.
Add 4 lbs. sugar, 3 sliced oranges, 3 sliced lemons and 2 tbs. (or 2 cakes) dry yeast.
Let stand 4 days and 4 nights.
Strain.
Bottle, do not tighten caps until all fermentation stops.
It may take 2-3 weeks, depending on temperature and quantity.
It gets good around Christmas.

Sarah (Wolfgang) Heffner is on staff at the Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville.

3 thoughts on “Spring Tonic

  1. Love the recipe for the Hot Bacon Dressing. It used to be my job in the spring to get the dandelions. Later in the season as the dandelions got bitter, she’d make the dressing with endive. Thanks for the reminder!

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