At this time of year the dandelions on the verges along side the grid roads in Milton Keynes are a spectacular sight - a sea of yellow, easily able to compete with the daffodils from a few weeks previously.
It's funny how we tend not to appreciate the humble dandelion. If it were a rare or exotic plant it would be considered a thing of beauty. But because it is so common we do not seem to notice its head of bright yellow flowers followed by the delicate perfect ball of silver seeds. Indeed, not only do we not appreciate it, but we seek to destroy it when it appears in our lawns, flower beds or amongst our vegetables. I am no different. Many a time I have dug down... deeply... to remove the long tap root of the dandelion plant from my veg patch, or cursed as I brushed past a dandelion clock, sending future weed seeds across my plot. But, in it's place - as a wild flower - it is beautiful, particularly when flowering en mass.
Having ooh-ed and ahh-ed from the car window at the dandelions last week, I found myself paying particular attention to Pam the Jam helping John the Forger to make dandelion jam on River Cottage Every Day - Bread on Saturday evening. I don't know what time of year they filmed it in but between them they struggled to find the necessary hundred flower heads for the recipe. I looked at my girls and said, "Shall we make that?" They nodded with enthusiasm - my youngest loving the thought of picking her favourite flower, my eldest keen to take up the challenge of making something edible from a weed.
That night I searched the internet for Pam's recipe but I couldn't find it. Instead, I found a variety of other recipes and soon learned that finding enough dandelion heads would be tricky, pulling the petals off fiddly, and getting the jam to set time-consuming. I was not deterred.
So on Tuesday afternoon the girls and I set off to pick dandelions. Quite frankly, it was ridiculous. There were literally thousands of the things! I spent most of my time taking photos but still managed to pick several hundred flower heads. My girls filled their baskets to overflowing yet still they didn't want to stop. It was a thoroughly lovely way to spend an hour.
Back home we spent another hour pulling the petals away from the sepals. This proved less interesting and half way through my youngest sloped off to do something else. My eldest was determined to empty her basket but eventually admitted defeat. We had, however, by then accumulated 500g of dandelion petals!
In the absence of a decent recipe, I was kind of making it up as I went along so I put the petals into my preserving pan with 4 oranges & 2 lemons, 1 lb of gooseberries (from the freezer) and a few litres of water. This I heated up and simmered for an hour. I hoped the gooseberries and citrus combination would provide the necessary pectin as well as mild flavour to compliment the dandelions. Whilst it cooked, the kitchen was filled with a smell reminiscent of honey & lemon.
Once boiled, I poured the contents of the pan into a jelly bag and let it drip for a couple of hours. By then it was late so I left the liquid covered for the night and recommenced the next day. In total I had four and three quarters pints of liquid so I decided to add 4 lb of sugar to it. Once dissolved, I brought it to the boil and attempted to get it to reach its setting point. After nearly an hour of boiling I admitted defeat and added a 250ml bottle of Certo pectin. Then with still no obvious set, I boiled it up again for a few minutes before I finally managed to achieve the tell-tale wrinkle on a cold saucer.
Before bottling I added the petals of a few more dandelion heads to the jam for added texture/appearance. It is a beautiful looking jam - a glowing amber colour as sunny as the flowers it came from. The flavour is admittedly subtle but a sort of perfumed honey flavour with a hint of citrus - perfect on hot cross buns.
So what have I learnt about making dandelion jam?
Collecting enough heads is not difficult if you time it correctly.
Pulling the petals off is fiddly.
Getting it to set is difficult and needs a good source of pectin.
Also, dandelions stain - yellow from the pollen and brown from the stems - so wear old clothes when picking them!
The flavour is subtle but it is satisfying to make jam from a weed.
250g dandelion petals (no green parts) + a few extra
1.5 litres water
1 kg granulated sugar
225ml Certo bottled pectin
Pull the petals from the green parts of the dandelion heads and place in the preserving pan. Slice oranges & lemons (peel & all) and add to the pan. Add the gooseberries and water then bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Scald a jelly bag then pour the mix into it and allow it to drip for a few hours. Clean the preserving pan and return the liquid to it. Add the sugar and stir until fully dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 10 minutes. Add the bottled pectin then return to a rolling boil until the setting point is reached. Remove from the heat, stir in the reserved dandelion petals and ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately.