The taste of revenge

dandelion wine

Culinary exercises don't usually begin as an act of revenge. Hunger, financial gain, perhaps even artistic expression, but rarely as a means of exacting revenge on the produce.

Our story begins in late Spring. A long and snow filled winter has given way to ample moisture and pleasant temperatures. Our protagonist had recently left his place of employment, burned out from six years of the Internet time warp. His new refuge and release came from food and earth, hours and days lost toiling in the garden and yard. The lawn was a fantastical green, flower buds starting to unfold, and scrawny seedlings rose valiantly skyward in the garden.

One morning they awoke and started the day as all others before: coffee, breakfast, bathing, dressing, and dog walking. On the way across the yard they notice a bright blossom punctuating the otherwise green expanse; the first dandelion of the season had arrived. We'd like to say that over the next few weeks the numbers increased in a steady but controllable manner but in fact it happened over the space of that single dog walk. Returning, they found a yard erupted with hundreds of bright yellow blossoms. Apparently the first one was reconnaissance and liked what it saw.

If they had planted those dandelions, if those yellow flowers, so bright and cheery in the morning light, were the fruits of their labor they would have been overjoyed and danced barefoot like imps in the cool morning dew. But the dandelions were uninvited guests, chaos amid a slightly ordered yard.

Any form of chemical attack was out of the question. The yard is home to two cats and a dog, who regularly dine on new grass shoots in a therapeutic form of self induced roto-routing. The humans can be found walking barefoot across this green landscape and may sometimes toss out a sleeping bag and slumber under stars, waking up chilly and dew coated. Hand-to-root combat was also out of the question as the yard spans almost an acre of rolling grass and dale.

That is when he remembered Dandelion wine, or rather, remembered seeing recipes on the web for making the wine. Digging through the recipes he picked one which required lots of dandelion flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Revenge was at hand.

You, sitting in a comfortable chair and reading this without a dandelion in sight, probably see that this will not end well. You can see that the dandelions will keep propagating and sending out new flowers as if the man had never spent an hour plucking the heads of some one hundred or so prime flowering specimens. You have the calm and introspective wisdom to remember that they manage to survive continued lawn mower attacks. You even know of the futile attempts at pulling them out by their roots, one molecule left behind growing into hundreds of bigger, even hardier plants. You know this, but you also understand the fallibility of man and how we all need our little imaginary victories.

Bowls full of brightly colored flowers in hand he steps into the kitchen to begin the magical art of exacting revenge. Hot water, ample sugar, lemon juice and rinds, all mixed with flowers to create a slurry of sweet yellow mulch, if you will, that was soon joined by eager yeast spores. The water leaches flavor from the flowers while yeast happily reproduces, all the while devouring sugars and exhaling CO2 and alcohol. A week goes by, the airlock on the gallon jug burping and dancing like a leprechaun. CO2 is let out and oxygen is kept from entering. A straining and transfer into a fresh, clean jug follow. Another week or so allows the final sugar to be converted, the yeast dying and sinking to the bottom in consumptive bliss.

By this time the lawn has gone from green to yellow to white with fluttery dandelion seed copters swirling in the breeze. The cause is hopeless, the blood lust of revenge has settled, and all that is left is a cloudy liquid which smells and tastes appropriately bitter. More time is given to settling and straining but the new wine is stubborn and the winemaker less interested in a project which doesn't seem to be working as planned. Finally, a month later, he siphons it off into bottles, shoves corks deep to seal it away, and puts them into a dark, cool place to mature and transform into something utterly beautiful if not a bit complex and compelling. That is the hope, for as he bottles it none of these traits are even hinted at.

Six months pass and he opens a bottle to test for miracles. None have occurred. If anything there has been a bit of an anti-miracle. The wine, which had seemed relatively clear when bottled, has cast off great amounts of sediment which rise up in swirling clouds whenever the bottle is jostled or poured. The flavor is off, the clarity is non-existent, and the revenge has been reversed.

Being a pragmatic and frugal sort he doesn't pour the wine down the drain, thinking that a use may some day come along. Perhaps it can be applied directly to the new Spring growth and miraculously eradicate them? One can only hope.

He has a brother who lives many thousands of miles away. This brother is a talented cook and it is during a holiday visit that he learns from this brother the secrets of marinades. Large ziplock bags filled with meat (chicken, beef, or pork) are joined by vinegar, oil, many spices and other secret additives before being sealed and put into the refrigerator for a day or nights worth of transformation. Meat or vegetable, any item thus marinated and then grilled is imbued with wonderful taste and texture.

It is some months after this visit that he is in his own kitchen preparing to marinade a couple pounds of chicken thighs. Skin and fat removed, the chicken awaits anointment. Into the ziplock bag he puts roughly a quarter cup of canola oil, a dollop of dijon mustard, a bit of anchovy paste, two tablespoons of cummin powder, a couple teaspoons of fresh ground pepper, a teaspoon of salt, hearty dashes of marjoram and thyme, and to top it off a half cup or more of cloudy dandelion wine. A test. Seal, shake well, then in goes the chicken thighs. Air is removed, much more sloshing and mixing takes place, it is then placed in the fridge for a day's worth of marinading.

That night the grill is fired up and the marinated chicken thighs are tossed onto an even heat for a steady, slow cooking. Half an hour later it's dinner time and what a dinner it is. The marinade is one of the best ever, flavorful and subtle, the chicken is tender and, dare we say, complex and compelling. He casts an eye out the window, where small dandelion buds are even now starting to work their way to the surface. He smiles as he chews.

This revenge tastes great.


Other Stories and Photos - The Jer Zone

© Copyright 2002 Jerry Halstead.
Last update: 4/27/02; 9:09:26 AM.