Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.
— Ray Bradbury (22 August 1920 – 5 June 2012). Dandelion Wine, Chapter 3, published 1 January 1957, developed from the short story “Dandelion Wine” in Gourmet Magazine, June 1953.
In this semi-autobiographical book of small-town, midwestern boyhood in the summer of 1928, Bradbury uses dandelions as symbols of a special seasonal rhythm, metaphorically contained in the 31 bottles of wine his grandfather makes from a plant commonly described as a weed. The wine is for drinking but is also stored as medicine against the infirmities of winter.
Dandelion petals, lemon juice and sugar were the favored ingredients in the making of this wine during my midwestern childhood. Fruit wines of every possible kind were much preferred to those made from our native vitis labrusca grapes. They lacked the undesirable foxy, musky qualities of the ubiquitous labrusca grape variety. And ubiquitous they were as we might recall from the fact that Norse explorer Leif Ericsson (ca. 970 – ca. 1020) named the newly discovered coast of North America ‘Vinland.’ (Leif descended from a family of travelers, although they were not wanders-by-choice: his grandfather was banished from Norway for murder and moved to Iceland and his father was banished from Iceland, moving to Greenland…. Westward Ho!)
I have always thought of dandelion wine, and the fruit wines in general, as proof that people will improvise with whatever comes to hand to get a buzz — not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with dandelion wine. I’ve tasted it. I simply find the distilled essences of the fruit wines to be better drinks than the wines themselves.