How to Make Dandelion Jelly

Time for a confession: I am going to let you in on one of my deepest, darkest secrets:

I love dandelions.
dandelions
Don’t tell my husband – PLEASE don’t tell him. It’s a betrayal, I know. I KNOW. But I cannot help myself. They are such smiley, happy little flowers. Like little bits of sunshine sprinkled throughout the lawn. And I know they are a weed, okay? I get that they have no place amidst his carefully cultivated lawn! This is just how far I’ve fallen.

Are you ready for this?

Sometimes, I … I … make wishes and blow the whispery white little seed pods into the wind.

STOP JUDGING ME! I can feel the hate! But I … Just. Can’t Stop.

Fortunately for me, my sweet son loves to pick them for me. He’s been bringing me dandelion bouquets every day.

with dandelions2

And since I hate for wonderful things to go to waste, I use them up. When life gives you dandelions, make dandelion jelly.

In my book MOTHER MONA, my protagonist travels to Spruce Island near Kodiak, Alaska, where life is totally off the grid. Mona’s family basically has to can or dehydrate everything so it won’t go bad. Mona’s family would have canned blueberries or salmonberries, which grow abundantly on Kodiak and its surrounding islands. We make jelly out of the berries on our property in Alaska also – mostly golden raspberries and cranberry/rhubarb. But dandelion jelly is a light and delicate alternative that is perfect for topping toast or biscuits – if you can keep your kids from eating it straight out of the jar. (It’s also a killer addition to a glass of herbal tea).

dandelion jelly outside 1.75 oz

Here’s how to make it:

1. Send the kids out into the yard to pick a heap of dandelions. You’ll need a bucketful in order to end up with the 2 cups of petals needed for the jelly – about 5 cups of flower heads. (Note: make sure your yard or wherever they’re picking from has not been sprayed with pesticide or is not right off the road, because … yuck). Pop the heads off, and wash them well.

2. Now pull the yellow petals out (a wee bit of green and/or white is okay) and put them into a sauce pan with 2.5 cups of water. Bring the whole thing to a boil for about 10-15 minutes, or until the water turns bright yellow.

3. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Strain the petals out and measure to make sure you have 2 full cups of dandelion water left. If not, add more water.

4. Pour the dandelion water back into the saucepan and add 1/4 cup lemon juice and 4 cups sugar. (Yes four cups. If you think sugar is the devil, well you’re probably right but in the meantime go have some broccoli with chia seeds and please ignore the rest of this blog post.) Bring it to a boil again and add in 3 ounces of liquid pectin. Boil another few minutes or whatever the directions on your liquid pectin tell you, and then ladle into jars and can in a water bath or label and put whatever you don’t eat immediately into the refrigerator.

5. Now, I will tell you that I often have to add another 1/2 packet of pectin (with the corresponding amount of additional sugar). It is a difficult jelly to gel sometimes. In any case, you’ll want to make absolutely sure it has set up before going to the trouble to can the jars in a water bath. Ask me how I know (by canning 24 jars of dandelion syrup, that’s how).

Here’s the recipe in full:

  • 2 heaping cups of fresh dandelion petals (that’s about 4-5 cups whole flowers)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 ounces liquid pectin

Boil petals in water until water turns yellow and equals 2 cups. Add lemon juice, sugar and pectin and bring to a boil for two minutes. Let cool, then ladle into jars.

So that’s that! Let me know how it goes!

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Everybody, duck!

IMG_5094One of the fun things my main character Mona gets to do in my novel MOTHER MONA is feed the family ducks at her daughter’s cabin on Spruce Island, Alaska. When our family last visited Spruce Island, we were rather surprised to see locals keeping ducks rather than chickens. We personally own 11 pet chickens – and I say “pet” chickens because they haven’t given us any eggs in months. My guess is they are waiting for Lent, when we give up eggs, meat and dairy. Our chickens are sarcastic like that.

If you’ve never had farm-fresh eggs, you’ve practically never had eggs. When our chickens started molting (that’s a poultry-esque term for turning into a diva and eating lots of expensive chicken feed for free), we had to go back to buying store-bought eggs. It was kind of like switching to diet rootbeer … not even close.

So when we learned that breakfast would include duck eggs, we were definitely intruigued. They were delicious. If we hadn’t known they weren’t chicken, we never would have guessed – although they are quite a bit larger than chicken eggs.

duck-eggsThe great thing about most domestic ducks is that they aren’t food snobs. In fact, one of their favorite meals was the slugs that grow so abundantly in Southeast Alaska. Every morning, the kids would walk the plank-covered paths, plucking the slimy little dudes from the grass at the edges, getting slug juice under their nails. The ducks went crazy for them, and the kids had a blast holding the slugs for the ducks to gently grabble with their beaks. Yes, I just made up the word grabble, but it suits.

The ducks poor Mona had to contend with are nothing like the sweet-tempered creatures we visited. Generally, most domestic ducks are very nice. My fictional ducks Quick and Quack are Indian Runners, and Bear, ironically, is a Buff Orpington Duck – known for being sweet and docile. In a novel, where’s the fun in that? In real life though, they ar4353579009_6dc7ee490b_ze two of the most popular domestic duck breeds, producing on average around 200 eggs a year. Sometimes even more.

My characters – like our friends on Spruce Island – own ducks rather than chickens for several reasons, but primarily because they are more cold-hardy than chickens. They’re usually quite affectionate too, and on a frugal homestead, 50% larger eggs are a definite plus.

And, they eat slugs. What’s not to love about that?

For more info on raising ducks, I recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks.

Research is vital (and fun!)

Research is an important component of writing – even in fiction. Of course the common advice is to write what you know, and that advice is absolutely dead on. However, details matter. So for a writer, it pays to educate yourself.

stove

Toward that end, I spent a wonderful afternoon at a friend’s house learning how she cooks on her woodburning stove. Mona, the main character in my novel MOTHER MONA, is a city girl who rarely cooks for herself at home. Most of her meals involve take-out or the salad bar at the local organic grocer. However, when she travels to a remote Alaskan cabin to be with her sick daughter, there’s no grocer for miles. Nor is there any electricity, gas or running water. Mona has to learn to cook on her daughter’s woodburning stove. And Mona learns, as I have today, that it involves as much art as science.

Luckily for me, today’s lesson involved baking three loaves of fresh whole-wheat bread. YUM! My friend Athanasia has been cooking on a woodburning stove for years. She’s lived the off-the-grid lifestyle for much of her life, and let me tell you she makes it look easy.
bread
It’s not. And we didn’t even go into the wood-chopping part.

I took notes on when to close the main regulator, when to turn the bread so it doesn’t all brown on one side (because the fire is hotter closer to the wood box), how to manipulate the burner rings on top to accomodate your tea kettle or fryer (cast-iron cookware is heavy!) and how to make your house smell pretty simply by adding a bit of dried lavender buds to the bread-warming drawer.

Of course, any good researcher will tell you thoroughness is of vital import. And so, as I drove home I tore off and ate about a third of the steamy warm loaf of whole wheat she sent with me. Oh yeah!

Sadly for Mona, her first few tries at woodstove cooking come out looking nothing like this. But let’s just say that’s an area in which I already have plenty of expertise. I’ve already done that research, thank you very much.

kettle

NOTE:                                                                                  (It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the bottom of this kettle is actually inside the stove here. The fire box is directly below it. That round piece you see normally lies flat, but can be removed so the bottom 1/2 inch of the kettle fits directly over the flame. There is another ring that also can be removed to accomocate a frying pan. How cool is that!)