by Theo Richards
Previously, I wrote about not writing as a writing practice. Here’s something to do with all that not-writing practice. We aren’t going to talk about writing, we’re going to talk about fermentation. I think domestic ecosystems are queer. Sandor Katz agrees. It’s spring, get outside. Let’s learn to make some dandelion mead. I spent the years before coming to Blacksburg for my MFA in South Deerfield, Massachusetts with a bunch of queer kids and our dogs in an old farmhouse. If there is one thing queers in Western Mass love to do, it’s ferment weird shit in their kitchens. My housemates and I (mostly my housemates) developed this recipe last spring. Bri is a fermentation mastermind and skilled cook, Ced is an herbalist, Pearl is a biologist who is very good at picking flowers. I’m a poet, but we can’t only write.
You’ll need: dandelions, raw honey, lemons, oranges, berries, a large open mouth container, a small necked container for fermenting, probably storage bottles.
Taraxacum Officinale, the common dandelion, is a well-known liver support. It’s Latin name, officinale, means “of the apothecaries.” I know, a liver cleansing wine may seem counterintuitive. But the alcohol content of this home brew is low and the medicinal compounds of dandelions can be derived through fermentation. Taraxacum just means bitter herb.
Go dandelion picking. You only need the heads. Gather a few friends to help. You’ll need a gallon worth—like fill a gallon sized zip lock bag. Bring your dandelions home and remove the sepals. You can leave them on if you are feeling lazy, but they can impart a bitter flavor into your wine. This is also a great time to check for bugs because you’re going to get some bugs in there. Sorry.
This should be easy. Fermentation is messy, it’s a collaboration, that’s what we’re thinking about here—community, ecology, we can’t do anything alone.
Put 1 gallon of water on to boil. I think you can’t use chlorinated town water.
In a crock combine 2 halved lemons, 2 halved oranges, a lot of raisins– like a pound of raisins.
Let’s talk about the raisins. I know they sound weird, but I promise they don’t make your wine taste like raisins. These are where your tannins will come from. The yeast also munches on them. You can try adding less or leaving them out if raisins upset you that much. I’ve never made it without any raisins but throwing in a handful instead of a pound has gone fine. Add all but about a cup of the dandelion petals. Pour the boiling water over everything in the crock and stir. Cover the crock with a clean cloth and leave it until it cools to at most 90 degrees. Now add in the rest of the dandelion petals, a handful of any berry you want, and the 3 cups of raw honey.
We’re using raw honey because it, along with the dandelion petals and berries, are full of the wild yeast you’ll need to convert the sugars to alcohol. We’re adding the honey in now, so the heat doesn’t kill the natural yeast.
Now throw that cloth back over top and give it a stir once or twice a day. Leave it in the crock for 4 days before transferring it to a jug with an airlock. If you want to do this without a crock, put everything in the fermentation jug, put a lid on it, shake It around to mix, and put the air lock right on. It’s good to give honey ferments a turn every day but you can probably get away with neglecting it. Transfer it however you want (siphon, funnel, cheese cloth, spider strainer) but leave all of the solids behind. Leave it to ferment in the jug for two to three months. Really you just need to wait until the fermentation process has slowed enough that there are no longer air bubbles coming into the airlock. Now put it in bottles and let it sit for another 3 months to a year. The longer you leave it the more it mellows, the more impressive the flavor. But it is delicious when young and fresh out of the jug. Try both. Practice indulgence and patience. Maybe learning to wait and see what it turns into will be good for your writing practice.