When I was 18 I was living in my first apartment above a coffee shop/ recenter thing. The rent was cheap and it showed. Rain came in through the ceiling, a hole in the floor let a little squirrel in, and the light bulbs hung bare like deflated balloons. It was dank, dingy, and damp. And yet, all of these things were miraculously overlooked by the wonderful gift of my youth, which covers so many horrors life deals us.
One day I was reading an underground magazine I had subscribed to from California, called Arthur Mag. It went out of print before the end of the fall, but on this day it was spring. I lay on my twin bed reading the articles. Mostly stoner-hippie type stuff about music and Bush and the war. Sometimes they sent mix tapes with the magazine, which I usually enjoyed. Bands like BrightBlack Morning Light, Minus the Bear, etc. I had just gotten home from my nanny job and was exhausted. I laid down, lit a cigarette starting an article about wine making.
The picture of the contributing author was puzzling to me. I could not make out if the person was a man or woman. Feathers tied to leather hung from long greyish thin hair, an open button up shirt revealed a necklace of unknown animal tooth. I decided on man. He discussed a trip to the Amana colonies, which are pretty close to where I was living at the time. Well, they were closer than California. On the expedition, he encountered dandelion wine that friend had given him, and included a recipe in the side bar. I was transfixed. The thought of creating your own wine from dandelions was fascinating to me. The next day I bought two gallon sized glass candy jars. I began to collect the two gallons of dandelions needed in little sacks after work. It was very relaxing, but as I am allergic to bees I had to be quite careful.
A friend that frequented the coffee shop below was very familiar with the process when I described my plan to him. He was curious as to why I was carrying a sack of dandelions almost constantly. To my surprise, his father was an expert at making home made wines, making almost everything he drank from wild plants. He told me to add some oranges and raisins to each gallon. I did just so to the jars that sat on top the broken box wall heater in my kitchen and let the good times begin.
Over the next month, I chatted to my then boyfriend now husband over the phone nightly. He was living in Texas and I was in good ole Missouri. He was curious as to my plans for the wine once it was completed, as my expert friend had mentioned it could be quite potent, upwards of about 30% alcohol. I didn’t really have a plan, I said. I looked at the jars and thought. I guess I will take it slow, I said, looking at the jars. The dandelion heads were floating up and down up and down in the amber colored liquid. If dandelions were milk, this color was their cream. It was gorgeous. I waited with anticipation.
And then another emotion came upon me: fear. My boyfriend later hesitantly mentioned that it could be dangerous to ingest something that was made in my scrappy little apartment, especially since that something was essentially bathtub gin. I had not considered this, as little 18 year old me rarely considered much of anything. I began to grow suspicious of my little project. I did not want to end up like Seymour, and be eaten up. It looked so beautiful, it had to be harmless, but I remained slightly wary.
When the day came, I poured some into my thrift store mushroom mugs which matched my 1970s mushroom kitchen theme, all of which had been acquired at the same moldy smelling thrift store in town. I looked down into the cup. It smelled like the most lovely meadow. I took a sip. It was not dry, but definitely not sweet, and it was effervescent. I remained intrigued. Another sip. Good, I think. Elated, I ladled out half a mugs worth and drank it. Underage kids are idiots, I thought. We could be making all the alcohol we want in our own bedrooms. No more messing around trying to find a buyer, or convince an older brother to help us out. Much easier.
But, yet, I had no way to strain it out. I searched for cheese cloth for a week. Finally, finding some at Amish store. I strained it, and put it back in the glass jar. Every once in a while I would have a few sips and fall asleep reading. I was hardly enjoying the fruits of my labor. I was leery of drinking too much and getting sick. And then one day, tragedy. It had gone off. I hadn’t known to refrigerate it, (read: 18 year old living alone) and so it had expired into sour must. Down the sink it went and I haven’t made dandelion wine since.
And now it has been ten years, and here I am remembering. When I get to PA, I want to make some as an elixir and remember that summer.