Introduction: Harvest Your Dandelions!
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Food Science Challenge
Spring has sprung & for many this means hours of intensive primping & prepping their gardens & lawns for the summer months. Before you begin pulling, chopping and spraying those weeds away, consider harvesting them! That's right there are several weeds that are edible, delicious, and nutritious. I myself would not typically choose to make a meal out of weeds, but I do enjoy making Dandelion jelly every spring, so if you'd like to try a bit yourself check out this tutorial!
Step 1: Dandelion
The pesky dandelion is one of the first weeds to begin popping up everywhere in the spring, and although most see those bright yellow blossoms as a big fat headache, I secretly get excited & keep my eyes peeled for prime picking spots. Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese.The dandelion can actually be eaten from top to bottom.The leafs can be used in salads, the roots can be boiled or roasted, and of course the blossoms are used for teas, and jellies like this one.
Step 2: About This Jelly
I was taught how to make this jelly by a family friend years ago and it is one of my favorites. It's flavor is remarkably similar to honey, if you've ever wanted to be a human honeybee this is about as close as you'll come. The color is a lovely gold, and I like to line mine up by the window for the sun to shine through. The best thing about it though is that it is unique, I don't think you'll find it at your neighborhood grocery store. It makes for great gifts and a perfect conversation starter. Here's what you'll need...
8-10 cups of dandelion blossoms
5 cups of water
6 cups of sugar
4 Tbs lemon juice
Sterile jelly jars,lids, & bands (about 8-10 8oz jars)
2 packages of liquid pectin
OPTIONAL: yellow food coloring
Step 3: Harvesting the Blossoms
To harvest the blossoms you'll need to know what it is you are looking for exactly because there are other weeds that can resemble dandelions. Look for these characteristics:
`Bright yellow button shaped blossoms composed of several narrow petals
`leafs that have jagged or serrated looking edges
`Typically more then 1 blossom per plant.
Now that you have an idea of how to identify the dandelions locate a picking spot that has several blossoms within a short distance from each other, because you'll need LOTS of them. (8-10 cups) If your own yard doesn't provide enough you can ask a friend, or neighbor if you can pick theirs (make sure they haven't sprayed them) You will often get strange looks but most people are willing to let you to do some of their "weeding" for them, especially if you share the product!. Once you have harvested your fill you can spray them or tend to them as usual because they will more then likely be back next year!
* The milky "sap" of a dandelion will stain your fingers & nails so wear gloves if you want to prevent this.
TIP: The size of the blossom can vary from about nickel sized to silver dollar sized. They are all terrific but if you would like to be selective, I have found that the large blossoms make for the best flavor & color plus require fewer blossoms overall. In other words, "you get more bang for your buck."
Step 4: Processing the Blossoms
Once you've picked 8-10 cups of blossoms it's time to begin the tedious processing. To process the blossom you must remove the petals from the green portions. The petals have all that flavor you are looking for, while the green leafy portions will have an undesirable bitter taste. There are a couple ways of doing this: you can pull the petals out by hand, or cut them off with scissors. If you pull them by hand you will get fewer green portions making for a better colored & flavored "broth." If you don't have all day to spend pulling petals (like me) then you can cut them with scissors like so...
`First rinse them under cold water, (remove dirt and/or bugs), the blossoms will close up a bit which is actually helpful.
`Pinch together the ends of the petals with one hand
`Cut the "butt" of the blossom off with scissors
`Now remove any large remaining pieces of green
`Throw the petals into a quart jar.
`Repeat this process until you have a full quart of yellow petals.
If your like me you'll get a little sloppy about removing the greens as time goes on. (it can take quite awhile)
Step 5: Making the Jelly
Now that you have your petals collected dump them in a pot with your 5 cups of water. The petals will float so push them into the water with a spoon continuously as you go. Bring the water to a boil and keep pushing the petals down into the boiling water. Once the petals become saturated turn down the heat a bit and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. The simmering petals will be very aromatic as they cook down. Remove it from the heat & strain out the petals with a fine wire mesh or cheesecloth. The water will have become a "broth" of sorts & will be a brownish golden color. Not to worry though, this is not the final color & it will lighten up once your sugar is added.
Set the stage for your jelly by setting out your sterile jars and lids.
In a large pot stir together 3 cups of the broth with 4 Tbs of lemon juice, and 6 cups of sugar. (you can add some yellow food coloring to brighten it a bit as well) Bring the mixture to a rapid boil until it can not be stirred down. Quickly stir in both packets of liquid pectin & return it to a boil. Boil it hard for 1 minute longer. Now you can fill your jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Scoop the foam off of the top with a spoon & add the lids. Then process in a 10 minute water bath.
Step 6: Enjoy Your Harvest
There you have it! Lovely, golden, dandelion jelly. Weather you keep it for yourself or give it as a gift is up to you, but either way it is the perfect way to kick off the spring season!
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