“Do you have dandelions in the United States?”
I wish I could convey the earnest curiosity that was in my friends voice when he asked this innocent question. Dandelions, a weed covering fields for as far as the eye can see. To a Frenchman, a wild thing like this must be too rangy and invasive to dull the shining vision of America. And when he heard that indeed they are just as prolific there as in our gardens here there was a fleeting look of glee as I could see him picturing NYC with dandelions peeking out of the cracks in the curbs and the NJ Turnpike being swathed in a golden robe. Because this is the U.S. that many of our French neighbors picture – there is no way that the home of Dallas and JR, the Empire State Building, suburban Desperate Housewives, could have rural corners like the rolling hills and valleys of Vermont or Virginia that are covered in the bright, bright yellow of dandelions that create their interminable carpet with the first sign of spring warmth.
Even though in our corner of France dandelions are also considered a weed there are those among us that take full advantage of this convenient, vitamin filled, free greenery. (I know a few of my American readers are also good about using this handy green, but they are a rare type.)
Dandelion season starts when the greens have begun to extend their angular arms, but before the flower buds start to form. This is the time to gather the greens and eat them. A simple salad of dandelion greens is good, but even better is the smell of a pan of bacon frying and garlic simmering. Add the greens to this for a little wilt and you will never think of dandelions in the same way again. This is a springtime delicacy that we were introduced to last year. Once you can see the flower buds it is too late to make this delicious wilted salad.
As the inevitable buds do appear it’s time to gather this nutritious ‘weed’ for the rabbits. Helping to weed the community garden the other day I had just about loaded up the wheelbarrow to the brim with dandelions. When I asked where this year’s compost pile was going to be I got an incredulous look – don’t you want those ‘piss in the bed’ for the rabbits or chickens? I’ll bet no one’s ever asked you that seemingly shocking question before. But en France the name of this yellow invader is ‘pissenlit’ – piss in the bed – and once you’ve heard this that’s exactly what you see. Yellow fields with the edges of yellow spreading seeping as liquid would seep into the edges of the bed covers.
Unlike French parents, Americans don’t get the endless snickers of their children by calling a dandelion a dandelion – but they still have the problem of seeping yellow throughout the land……