Dandelions with Bacon or Ham Recipe

Each Spring a primordial urge pulls me out of the house –paring knife and bowl in hand– to the weedy natural area at the far edge of my yard. Luscious green dandelion plants peek through the brown leaf-covered grass. The winter has been long and hard, and I desperately need to renew myself. The tender foraged greens are my spring tonic (as they were for my parents and grandparents).

People traditionally ate a very limited selection of foods during the late winter months, and often they were nutrient-deprived by April. Their bodies told them they needed the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants provided by the emerging dandelion leaves.

Since I’m a dandelion connoisseur (Is it possible to be a connoisseur of weeds?) , I was thrilled to find a hundred-year-old recipe for Dandelion with Ham or Bacon.

I made the ham version. The ham bits nicely balanced the slight bitterness of the small tender dandelion leaves. As I hungrily devour the dish,  I can almost feel the nutrients surging through my body. I’ve made it through another winter. Spring (and fresh food) have arrived – and I know that the summer’s bounty will be here soon. Life is good.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: American Cookery (April, 1918)

When I made this recipe, I made one-quarter of the original recipe. Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Dandelions with Ham or Bacon

  • Servings: 2 - 3
  • Difficulty: moderate
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2 quarts dandelion (8 cups)

water

4 ounces ham or bacon, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

Thoroughly wash the dandelion. (I triple wash it, and it is a slow process. The washing of the dandelion is what takes most of the time when making this recipe.)  Put in a large sauce pan and cover with boiling water. Place on stove, bring back to a boil using high heat. Boil for 15 seconds then remove from heat and drain thoroughly. Just barely cover the dandelion with fresh boiling water, add ham or bacon, salt, and pepper. Cover and place back on the stove. Return to a boil using high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until the meat is tend and the dandelions are almost dry (they should still have a little juice (about 25 minutes).  Remove from heat. If desired, serve with boiled turnips or potatoes.

No Weeds in the Yard, and Dandelion for Dinner!

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, April 17, 1911: I got a supply of novelettes this morning. Will have something to do now during my leisure hours. Ruth and I expected company this afternoon, but they didn’t come. Gathered some dandelions. 

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This is the third time in less than 8 days that Grandma gathered dandelions (see the April 10 and 13 posts). In today’s world it is easy to get most any fresh fruit or vegetable we desire whenever we want them throughout the year, and it is difficult  to imagine how excited people once were when dandelions and other bitter greens became available in the spring. Throughout the winter months the family would have been eating vegetable that had been stored since the previous fall (potatoes, squash, parsnips, etc.). These greens were the first new fresh vegetables since the previous fall.

—–

Husband Bill said that I’d been talking about how awesome dandelions were all week—and that I should make myself useful and help dig the dandelions out of the yard. We spent some quality time together, enjoyed a spring day, had dandelion for dinner, and the yard looks great!

Creamed Dandelion Recipe

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Monday, April 10, 1911: I helped to wash this morning. Mistress Besse was out this afternoon and went with Miss Ruth out to gather some delicious dandelion. Ours was no good after all.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Dandelion! Grandma’s diary entry reflects that excitement that fresh dandelion generated.

Dandelion, endive, and other bitter greens used to be considered a spring tonic. People traditionally had a very limited selection of foods during the late winter months, and they really looked forward to eating fresh greens in the spring.

When I was a child we often ate creamed dandelion served over mashed potatoes in the spring. I remember older relatives saying that they felt healthier after eating spring greens.

I seldom make creamed dandelion, but often make creamed endive.  Endive tastes similar to dandelion, but it isn’t quite as bitter.

CREAMED DANDELION (ENDIVE)

4 cups dandelion (or endive)

3 slices bacon, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 heaping tablespoon sugar

2  tablespoons vinegar

1 cup milk

Mashed potatoes, if desired

Wash dandelion and tear into pieces; set aside.

Cut bacon into pieces and fry until crisp in a large skillet. Stir in flour, sugar, and vinegar. Gradually stir in milk; heat until bubbly using medium heat. Reduce heat to low; stir in dandelion and cover for 1 minute. Remove lid and stir until wilted. Delicious when served over mashed potatoes.