Deep learning with dandelions – part 2
The story of a dandelion jam adventure – from foraging to eating – and the mistakes & learning along the way.
Age Range: all ages
Duration: 3-4 hours
Time Of Day: any time
Category: food outdoors health & wellbeing
Muddy Faces founder Liz tells the story of her first time making fresh-foraged dandelion jam, inspired by her youngest son’s enthusiasm for dandelions and his deep learning experience of making jam over a fire at his outdoor kindergarten the year before.
“We set off on a mountain biking trip and arrived home from a dandelion-collecting adventure!”
This story explains how a mountain bike excursion resulted in lovely jam and an every day micro-adventure had along the way. Find out what worked, what didn’t, and how it was fixed. This is well worth reading before embarking on a dandelion recipe for the first time.
“One weekend, after much badgering by my eldest son, we headed out on our bikes to a ‘proper’ mountain bike track on one of Sheffield’s many hills. It was thrilling as we sped down the dips and skidded around corners. The youngest (5 at the time) came a cropper over the handlebars not long into the first lap and the eldest experienced a few minor slips and a bumped bum.
They dusted themselves off. Everyone loved the challenge and exhilaration – there weren’t even any complaints on the tough uphill parts. We panted and pushed the bikes back up the winding tracks, through the woods, tackling the last bit of the hill.
As we drew close to the end and the path flattened out, the trees opened to reveal a sunny field (an old helicopter landing pad) absolutely full of dandelions. Having made dandelion jam at his outdoor kindergarten the year before, every time our youngest son spotted a dandelion he would point it out or tell us something he knew about them – his enthusiasm was even rubbing off on my elder son. Seeing the field the boys shouted “Whooo – look at all the dandelions! Can we collect some for jam?”
This beautiful discovery shaped the rest of our Sunday as mountain biking morphed into jam-making.
Tips for foraging dandelions
My five-year-old son gave us tips for foraging dandelions for jam. He told us to only pick fully-grown flowers, He elected himself Chief Dandelion Inspector – only allowing un-slug-munched dandelions to be picked.
The great thing about dandelions is that when you find a field full of them you can collect two bag fulls and it hardly has an impact on the numbers left for all the insects and bees. Also, unlike blackberries, collecting dandelions seems to be an infrequent activity i.e I have never seen anyone else doing it!
More pointers for foraging
Only take what you need and only pick the part of the plant you need, leaving the rest.
Do you need permission to pick? (most people don’t mind you picking dandelions)
Don’t collect on contaminated land.
Our son told us that its very important to wander through the field as you collect, to prevent too many being picked in one area. Despite their abundance, remain mindful, as with any foraging foray. Do not over-collect (no more than 30-40%) in any one area.
See our tips for foraging for more pointers.
The boys had the ingenious idea of collecting the dandelions in their helmets. When we left, armed with our bounty of dandelion flowers, I was accompanied by two expectant children and a more-than-slightly-dubious husband (he’s been in this situation before – check out my post about our camping trip that turned into a bilberry jam extravaganza… ).
Making the jam
It was decided we would make dandelion jam for us and dandelion marmalade for the grandparents.
The following description is a story of our experience, if you want to make the jam yourselves see our dandelion jam recipe.
I had to pop off to the shops to get a few things to set us off on our jam and marmalade-making.
“Don’t forget the pectin, don’t forget the pectin, don’t forget the pectin!” Amazingly I didn’t forget the pectin – quite unusual for me to remember the thing I actually needed to fetch.
When I returned home, the boys had been hard at work and had just finished separating the petals from the green stalks.
Trim the heads with scissors or gently twist the petals away from the rest of the flower. You will get a few sepals but try to minimize the amount of green you get in your petals.
We steeped the petals in boiling water and watched the colour seep out of the petals into the water. We then sieved and filtered the petals and squeezed them out. We spread out the discarded petals and put them on a tray to dry in the sunshine, to be used later.
My son desperately wanted to cook the jam over a fire, like he had done a year ago at his outdoor kindergarten. Although it was a bright sunny day, it was very windy and a jam-making campfire was not possible. Luck was on our side! I discovered a hob in the kitchen and said to the boys, if we couldn’t have a fire then the hob would just have to do. So it was agreed – jam-cooking would happen on the hob.
We added the sugar and stirred it in, watching as it dissolved. Taking photos was tricky as the steam kept fogging up the lens!
After the sugar and dandelion liquid had boiled, we added the fruit pectin and carefully ladled the mixture into jam jars. Then we left it to cool.
Disaster! When I looked at the cooled jam, it wasn’t a jam but a runny liquid.
Oh no! I had no idea what had gone wrong. I decided to reheat the liquid to a much higher heat, added more fruit pectin, boiled it a bit longer and re-jarred it (I think this is technically called winging it 🙂 ). By this time it was getting late and the boys had gone to bed, so after it had cooled for a while I popped it in the fridge and went to bed too.
The following morning, the boys excitedly extracted the jars from the fridge to discover…. yippee… THE JAM HAD SET! Phew ‘What a jammy recovery!’
This is currently our favourite jam and the two jars that we eventually made, I don’t think will last too long.”