Grammy and her dandelions. (Photo: Chris Fetter)
Dandelions can be the bane of a lawn owner’s existence. But for 97-year-old Virginia Dobell, whom everyone calls Grammy, dandelions are a culinary delight. Reporter Ann Murray of The Allegheny Front went out picking dandelions with Grammy on a nice spring day and has our story.
CURWOOD: Dandelions are one of the surest signs of spring and a promise of summer. They can also be a nuisance if you are working on a perfectly manicured lawn. But one person's grass-choking weed can be another's culinary delight. Ann Murray of the public radio program The Allegheny Front has this story on one longtime dandelion-lovin’ grandma.
CHRIS: I don't think you should walk over there.
GRAM: I can do it, come on buddy.
MURRAY: This afternoon, 97-year-old Virginia Dobell, a.k.a. Grammy, will not be deterred by some uneven ground and wild grasses. She's doing what she's done for the past ninety springs...gathering the season's first batch of dandelion greens for dinner.
GRAMMY: Look at this. This is like a bed of 'em.
MURRAY: So this looks promising?
GRAMMY: Yes, and if you tell me they're all red, I'll probably faint.
MURRAY: Red stemmed dandelions are a no-no for connoisseurs like Grammy.
MURRAY: If it's red, does it tell you that it's a bad taste?
GRAMMY: They're very, very bitter. OK, gotta have my knife, toots.
MURRAY: Grammy's grandson, Chris Fetter, pulls out a small kitchen knife from a paper bag. With considerable effort, Grammy hangs on her cane, bends over and starts cutting a big dandelion out of the ground.
GRAMMY: You always leave the base of the dandelion on...like so.
MURRAY: So what do you actually eat here? What part are we looking for to eat?
GRAMMY: Right there.
MURRAY: She points at the long light green, almost white dandelion stems and spines.
GRAMMY: They come in the tall grass. When they're about that tall...they're the yum yum ones.
MURRAY: Grammy should know. She's been rounding up dandelions since she was seven. Back then it wasn't just for fun. She and her big family depended on dandelions and potatoes for food all spring and summer. Just like the European settlers who brought the dandelion over here to fill out their paltry diet. The roots contain taraxacin, which stimulates digestion, and the leaves are full of vitamin A and D. Today, Grammy's passing on the tradition to Chris.
GRAMMY: You have to cut all the way around. Atta boy. See if you pull 'em up, you're in trouble. (Laughs)
CHRIS: I didn't do too good on that one.
GRAMMY: That's a white one, see. There you're talking sense.
MURRAY: While Chris cuts dozens of plants, Grammy tells me some dandelion pickin' stories. On one of her first excursions, her brother followed her to the family's apple orchard.
GRAMMY: So he gets in a tree and hides. When I get all my dandelions that I think's gonna do us for supper, I start for the house. And all of a sudden out of the tree he came. Grabbed my bag and spread the dandelions all along the way.
MURRAY: What a dirty trick.
GRAMMY: LAUGHS. Yes, a dirty trick it was.
MURRAY: Dirty tricks aside, Grammy's been making dandelion salads for years. Back in her apartment, she thumbs through the well-worn cookbook her mother passed on to her in 1925. In the margin, her mom's written 'very good' next to the recipe for hot dandelion dressing.
GRAMMY: Of course, the first thing we do is fry the bacon and make that real nice crisp.
MURRAY: While Grammy gets the bacon going, Chris chops the dandelion greens.
CHRIS: Do you want to leave the leaves long, Grammy, or do you want them…?
GRAMMY: No, in half so they’re, you know, easy to eat.
MURRAY: After they finish up, they pull out a big pan and mix in milk, egg, a little flour and lots of vinegar.
CHRIS: Tell me when.
GRAMMY: That's good enough.
MURRAY: Then they pour the concoction in with hot bacon grease.
GRAMMY: And we keep stirring, stirring, stirring. Now we're going to put it on the salad and just swish and swish and swish. OK, it is ready.
MURRAY: Just in time for Sunday dinner. The table's set and Chris and his mom, Gloria, let Grammy take the first bite of dandelion salad.
GRAMMY: Ohhhhh it is good!!
CHRIS: Good job, Grammy.
GLORIA: Good job.
CHRIS: Tastes great.
MURRAY: This is Ann Murray.
GRAMMY: Oh heavenly days….
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