Friday, July 13, 2012

Dandelions? Fine!

"Dandelion" by J Frasse 
Speaking of weeds, my family has an unusual connection with one in particular - the dandelion. It began over fifty years ago, when my mother asked the manager of the Enfield Garden Center for the seeds for “those little yellow flowers on everybody’s lawn.” We had transplanted our Brooklyn roots to northern Connecticut. What did any of us know about dandelions?

In Brooklyn, anything that grew through sidewalk cracks was revered. Backyard gardens cramped a few tomato plants, a row of lettuce leaves, and a row of radishes together, in about half the space seeding instructions recommended.

The lushest spot on the block was the corner fruit and vegetable stand. Baskets of beans, bananas, apples, and artichokes slanted towards short women in housecoats who had a knack for squeezing and snapping the produce for freshness.
Grandma wore one of those housecoats. She also knew more about dandelions than any of us. In Italy her mother would serve the green –raw and cooked.
A few months after we moved, Grandma and Grandpa traveled to Enfield from Brooklyn to visit us in what they called “the country.” Grandpa, a barber, first snipped his son’s and grandson’s overgrown hair onto our under-grown lawn. A lawn speckled with a yellow flower here, a yellow flower there. Then we all headed to the Warehouse Point Trolley Museum for a nostalgic ride.
Grandma would wait out the ride on a webbed lawn chair Dad kept in our ’55 Plymouth, or so we thought. By the time we got back to her, she had filled the car’s trunk with jagged dandelion leaves.
More comfortable with Italian than English, she called the bounty, “Cicoria,” Washed, the leaves filled one macaroni pot a day through her week-long visit. Steamed, the bounty shrunk, resembling seaweed. And, like the lion’s teeth for which the leaves are named, those toothy greens did bite.

I find myself a third-generation dandelion lover. Early on, it wasn't for the taste but  more for the sunny bouquets my preschool daughter would pick and offer saying, “These are for you, Mommy.” Or the sight of my five-year-old son’s puffed cheeks as he prepared to send a matured fluff ball of seeds into the air. Some of the tiny parachutes of white down would settle a short distance away from the parent plant; others would float out of sight.

In time, I too, developed a taste for the bitter green.

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