This is a repost from April 2009:
It rained last night and this morning it is misty and damp and the birds in the cemetery behind my house are singing away. I woke up this morning thinking about Gram Werner and her dandelion salad. On days like this, when that first flush of bright green appears on the tree branches and the dry brown grass of winter begins to glow with new life, Gram would say, “It's almost time for dandelion salad.”
It wouldn't be long until, on any sunny day that you stopped by her house, you would find her sitting in the lawn somewhere with a bucket and a screwdriver prying little dandelions free from the earth. She especially loved them when they were new and tender. And she prized the little buttons that were the first budding of the flowers.
It amazes me now to remember how rich her yard was. There were apple trees that became so loaded with apples in the fall that she would prop the branches up with wooden clothesline poles. There was a pear tree that was unreliable but when it did bear fruit they were the most delicious pears --- small but flushed with red and so juicy and sweet. There was a white lattice arbor over the basement door that was loaded down with Concord grapes each fall. There were patches of chives and everywhere you looked, tucked into corners and along hedges, were bright clumps of rhubarb. One of the rituals of leaving home to live elsewhere was when Gram would bring you a clump of rhubarb, roots intact and wrapped in plastic, and all bundled in newspaper.
“Now, here,” she'd say, “this is the rhubarb Pop carried with him from the Old Country. Plant it when you get home and you can make rhubarb pie every summer.” I planted clumps of rhubarb in a number of new locations. Last time I looked there was a thick, healthy clump of Great-Grandpop's rhubarb growing under a hedge in Marblehead.
So anyway, Gram would fill her bucket and wash the precious plants well under the spigot that was surrounded by lilies of the valley. She'd take them into her big blue kitchen and this is how she made her salad.
First she would hard-boil 3 or 4 eggs and boil up 5-6 little thin-skinned potatoes. Then she'd take out a heavy, cast iron skillet and fry up 5 or 6 strips of bacon. While that was frying she'd put the greens, with their little button buds, in a huge bowl and add the eggs and potatoes sliced up. She'd chop up a couple onions and add salt, pepper and a good sized spoon of sugar and toss the whole thing together.
When the bacon was done she'd remove it to paper towels to drain and drain of about half of the fat (which she kept for other secret purposes). Then she'd put the skillet back over the flame until the fat was sputtering hot. Now, for a kid watching her, this was the fun part. “Stand back,” she'd say. And she'd pour apple cider vinegar into the hot fat and a great, hissing, eye-stinging cloud of steam would rise up out of the pan with the most wonderful hissing and snapping sound.
And with the vinegar still steaming and hissing she'd pour it over the greens! It was so cool, I always thought. She'd crumple on the bacon. Then we'd carry the bowl to the table and she'd give everyone a big “soup plate” to fill from the bowl and devour with nothing more than some home-made rye bread to round out the meal.
“That'll get the winter out of your bones,” she'd say. And we'd “eat ourselves full”, as she liked to say.
Dandelion Salad was an event and for years after I was grown and lived “away”, if I was home in the spring, I'd go by Gram's to see if we could have dandelion salad together. Once when we were in college, Jack called me from Alfred, where he was in school. “Hey,” he said, “tell me what all goes in dandelion salad, I picked a bucketful today.” And I could hear him writing it down as I told him step-by-step.
So it is Spring and I am remembering Gram, and Jack, and dandelion salad. I hope wherever they are they can have bowl of it together. And I'll have to go out and check out the dandelion situation in the cemetery. It's almost time.
Thanks for reading.