The dandelion wine incident

Marina
Marina Gambin
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The dreaded dandelion, which carpets our lawn seasonally, always brings a smile to my face and a special memory to my heart.

It reminds me of my only experience in the art of wine making. I think I was about 14 years old and game for anything. I was not alone in this escapade. It was my 15-year-old sister who spawned the adventure when she made me aware of a recipe scratched on a brown paper bag. The formula was for dandelion wine but we called it posy beer.

Jean had acquired the directions from an adult friend who highly touted its attributes and led us to believe that a glass of wine now and then was the debonair thing to do. I think our friend did not realize how utterly unsophisticated we were.

At 14 and 15 years-of-age, we had no intention of sharing our plan with our parents. We set about to develop the potent potable on our own. The actual dandelion plant was abundant in the community of Branch. Nobody paid any heed to two young girls picking a bucketful, as this green vegetable was often cooked in outport kitchens. It is at this point that my memory becomes obscure in relation to the other ingredients. I know we threw in yeast and sugar and maybe something else and let it all boil for a few hours.

I recall that this brewing process all transpired one night while our parents attended a card game and left us babysitting. Our five younger siblings must have been sleeping, or at least unaware of our actions because nobody told on us. The next recollection that stands out in my mind is of a brown earthenware jug. Where we obtained that I have no idea, but my sister thinks we may have "borrowed" it from my grandmother's pantry next door. The memorable jug had a cork stopper and it seemed like the ideal receptacle for our liquid potion.

By the time our parents returned from their game of 45s, we had our posy beer corked and safely stashed away behind the parlor door under a pile of papers where, per directions, it had to "work" for a few days. I now realize that the meaning of "work" was ferment. Well, work it did and about five or six evenings after our initiation into the operation of wine-making, it all came to a nerve-wracking climax.

As we all sat eating supper in the kitchen, the unforgettable porcelain jar could no longer hide our secret. Instead of popping its cork as the liquid expanded, it exploded into a thousand pieces and spewed our effervescent contraband and broken crockery to every inch of the room. The noise was akin to a dynamite explosion and to this day, when I enter that room, I still think I can smell the yeast and beer.

A gigantic cleanup

Our mother and father were never absolutely strict and they always ended up seeing the funny side of our shenanigans. I suppose we did get into a bit of trouble for our antics but after the threat of an explosion faded and everyone concluded there were no earthquakes or tidal waves, the excitement dwindled. The worst scenario was that my sister and I were left with one gigantic cleanup job.

Not long ago, I asked my sister what she alleged had happened to our brew. "I don't know but I think we might have used the wrong part of the dandelion or we put in too much yeast."

After our amateur attempt to brew our own spirits failed; we never tried again. To this day, I have not tasted dandelion wine. However, come next spring, there will be lots of raw material in my yard and I guess it is never too late. Now, all I need to do is to find a good sturdy porcelain jar.

— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved community of Branch, St. Mary's Bay. She lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at marinagambin@persona.ca

Geographic location: Placentia

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