His eyes widen lustfully as he stares down a steep embankment toward the edge of the fast-flowing river channel on the north end of the Missoulian building. The Dandelion Hunter covets a patch of flowers, swaying like truffula trees in the spring breeze. As he descends, the Dandelion Hunter chuckles, “picking posies at the gates of the Evil Empire.”
He is none other than the Independent’s own Andy Smetanka, the artist formerly known as Calendar Kid. And on this day he has agreed to initiate Chef Boy Ari into the clan of the Dandelion Mead brewers. Honey Mead, the nectar of all nectars, discovered independently by the Incas, the Greeks, and the Vikings. At the very mention of the word, the mind swims in images of drunken orgies facilitated by the drink’s legendary aphrodisiacal qualities. Indeed, this heavenly beverage is the very source of the word “honeymoon.” I truly hope Dandelion Hunter isn’t getting any funny ideas...
The first step in Dandelion Mead is to go pick the dandelions. Wait until the morning dew has dried, then cruise around your neighborhood looking for stashes. You want the ones with the fat, yellow heads—open or closed is OK.
We wander the alleys of an undisclosed neighborhood, plucking a few here, a few there, then moving on. Although we could have filled our bags at the first patch, Dandelion Hunter prefers to spread himself around, like a male dog marking his territory with a few squirts here and there. And speaking of dog pee, he warns: “Beware the dog vibe in your chosen harvest sites, especially around fences, telephone posts, fire hydrants, etc. Also, be on the lookout for evidence of chemical spray, and don’t pick next to the road.”
The most labor-intensive part of the whole process is, ahem, deflowering the dandelion heads. This is best done on your front stoop, with as much assistance as you can rally. You want just the yellow petals, none of the green stuff. Dandelion Hunter demonstrates his signature dandelion deflowering technique: He rolls the base of the flower between thumb and forefinger until he feels a loosening at the base of the petals. With his other hand he pulls the petals from the flower and drops them into a bowl. After a few hours of this, the bowl glows with a golden fluff that would tempt Jason the Argonaut to slam on the brakes and pull a U-turn.
Next it’s time to head to the kitchen. For a one gallon batch of mead, you will need:
• 2–3 pints of loosely packed petals
• 4 pounds of honey
• 1 package of Montrachet yeast (one package can make up to five gallons)
• 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient (available, as is the yeast, at winemaking supply stores like Lolo Creek Winery)
• 1/3 pint of strong, black tea (to provide the tannin)
• Sliced citrus, including peel (to provide acid for the yeast, 1 lemon and two oranges)
• Other herbs, such as catnip, bergamot, or whatever subtle flavors you are looking for.
• 1 large food-grade plastic bucket
• 1 glass jug
• 1 gallon water
A note on cleanliness: Everything that touches the mead must be clean, scrubbed, and sterilized with boiling water (warm the glass jug with hot water first before sterilizing it with boiling water). Don’t use wooden spoons for stirring, as they harbor bacteria.
Put half the water in a pot with the honey and heat to 160 degrees for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently (Don’t let it boil. It will explode from the pot like a volcano and make a sticky mess). While the water is heating, rinse the petals. Next, add the petals and honey-water to the bucket. Add the tea, extra herbs, and sliced fruit to the bucket. When it all cools to room temperature, add the yeast and nutrient. Cover with a clean cloth or plastic lid. Let sit for five days at room temperature, and then strain into the glass jug. Lolo Creek winery sells one-way vapor locks you can stick in the jug, which keep out contaminants while allowing gas to escape. Or, you can improvise the same thing with plastic wrap and a rubber band.
Keep the jug at room temperature. If you notice a layer of residue on the bottom, you can pour off the mead into another jug as often as you like. Transfer to bottles in six months. Keep at room temperature. Dandelion Hunter recommends waiting another six months for optimal flavor.
For an exhaustive reference to this and other aspects of home brewing, you may want to pick up a copy of The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. And of course, you can always e-mail Chef Boy Ari at firstname.lastname@example.org.