When I was very young and had to go to my grandparents' house while my parents worked, there was no computer, video games or children's television networks. There was only outside.
There were chores as well, even though I was only about 6 or 7 years old. One of my favorite chores was gathering food right out of the front yard. Fortunately, there was no chemical lawn service and no chemicals were spread onto the lawn to eradicate weeds, such as clover and dandelion. This was good because it was the dandelion we would gather for dinner.
I remember an old photo of me, probably taken with my mother's Kodak Brownie camera. I was wearing a wool coat and around my head was a wool scarf tied neatly around my chin into what we called a babushka. In my hands was a metal colander and inside the colander was a paring knife. I know from looking at the photo that it was probably a cool spring morning and I was gathering what my grandmother called ''dandelion greens.''
Even at that young age, I knew the youngest leaves on plants that hadn't yet gone to flower were the best. They were still tender and hadn't acquired the tough texture and bitterness of adult leaves. I recognized the plant as soon as I saw it, the rosette-shaped crown from which the slightly serrated leaves grew, easily separating the grass to claim its space in the yard.
I cut off the leaves as close to the crown as I could get with the small paring knife and filled my colander. When the colander was full, I carried them into my grandmother's kitchen. My grandfather worked afternoon turn at the steel mill. Because of his schedule, my grandmother cooked an early dinner so he could eat before he left for work. She would saute the washed greens in bacon fat until they were barely wilted and serve them with whatever the meat of the day was, usually pork or chicken. Her kitchen always smelled like bacon fat and propane.
There are recipes for dandelion greens all over the Internet. These concoctions usually include fresh garlic, Parmesan cheese and a little chile pepper. I think it's funny that my grandmother's cooked weeds from her front yard are now considered a gourmet dish in many fine restaurants. The yellow flower petals are edible as well, but are not generally cooked. They can be used fresh as a colorful addition to salads.
Dandelion, or Taraxacum officinale, has been grown commercially as spring greens in some states, but farmers find that they aren't as willing to grow in large fields as they are in our front yards. The plant has been classified as both a vegetable and an herb, used as both a food and a medicine. Although it goes by many names, including Irish Daisy, Blowball and Lion's Tooth, dandelion is how it is most commonly known, from the Latin expression Dens leonis, meaning Lion's tooth. The name refers to the shape of the plant's leaves.
Medicinally, the plant was used in ancient Egypt to treat jaundice, liver and gall bladder issues and urinary infections. In some areas of the United States, a spring tonic made of dandelion greens is still considered a cleansing remedy. My late aunt always had a batch of dandelion wine fermenting in her basement.
The leaves are very low in calories and contain several vitamins include A, C and K. It also contains many minerals essential to health, including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium.
If you decide to try young dandelion leaves yourself and can't find them commercially, be sure to gather them from areas that haven't been sprayed with harmful chemicals. Select young, tender shoots and serve them raw or blanched in salads and even on sandwiches in place of plain lettuce. You also can add them to soups, stews and stir-fries.