Dandelions were on the menu at Goshen College on Friday.
Posted on April 14, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.
Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
I ate weeds for lunch on Friday.
These were dandelions, harvested from the lush native landscaped areas of Goshen College.
Friday, April 12, was Dandelion Day at the college. A handful of students and Glenn Gilbert, the college's sustainability coordinator, harvested about two bushels of the greens on Thursday and turned them over to to AVI Fresh Dining Hall chef Jeremy Corson.
He knew what to do with them. He used to pick them with his grandmother, who would fix them with bacon, sugar and onions.
He went a different route Friday for staff and students, with dandelions served seven ways.
Why eat dandelions in the college cafeteria? “Well, we have a lot,” Gilbert said. “It's basically to stop and explore the way we feel, what we do about dandelions.”
He knows that people hate dandelions and spray them, dig them up and try to kill them.
He was passing out buttons that said, “Making Peace with Dandelions,” a play on the college's Making Peace marketing campaign.
In 2012, Goshen College started encouraging native landscaping on campus rather than turf grass that needed to be sprayed and mowed. About 12 acres, or about 20 percent of the campus lawn, is now prairie grass, which looks different and has to be burned once a year. And last year, there was a huge crop of dandelions.
Did neighbors complain?
“Sure,” said Gilbert. But he doesn't believe the increase in dandelions made them worse for neighbors. The seeds are everywhere, he said.
I grew up eating fried dandelion blossoms. I didn't eat many of the greens, but have had them occasionally since.
Cynthia Kauffmann, a staff member at the college, was excited by the event and the chance to eat them again. She, too, had them as a child. “I just think it's cool,” she said.
Corson and his staff made three baked items with dandelions:
Ÿ Oatmeal cookie. You could just taste a hint of the slightly bitter greens.
Ÿ Dandelion muffin and dandelion bread. You could barely taste the greens.
They also made a vegetarian sandwich on focaccia that had just a touch of wilted greens with other vegetables.
The best dish was the udon noodles with some wilted greens and soy sauce. Two noodles — classic large Asian noodles and finer but heartier whole wheat noodles — were used. I liked the whole wheat dish best.
On the salad bar, dandelion greens were in the spring lettuce mix.
In all of the preparations, the dandelions were subtle and even muted. I wanted more of them. But if you're introducing a green weed to college students, less is probably more.
Like other harvests, dandelions depend on the weather. This time last year, the dandelions were already past the yellow flower stage and going to seed, Gilbert said. This year, the flowers haven't emerged yet, which is better if you want to eat the less bitter greens.
They're healthy — high in vitamin A, C and K, according to those at the college. They had a history of being a cure-all before they became the bane of those who tend lawns.
Gilbert and Jonathan Mark, a GC senior from Bristol, are encouraging others to stop fighting the dandelions.
Mark has been collecting data on the natural prairie at the college. “By doing this, we're turning a waste into an asset,” he said.
And eating from the “lawn” at the college connects people to the land, he said.
Eating is an agricultural act, to quote Wendell Berry, but we're more accustomed to eating iceberg than dandelions. I can tell you which has more flavor, though iceberg doesn't have a bitterness range from palatable to fierce like dandelion greens.
I don't plan to spend hours on my knees harvesting dandelion greens this spring, but I enjoyed the ones I had Friday. If you want a taste, Elkhart County Parks is having a wild edibles program from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28. Fried dandelions, along with cattail muffins and stinging nettle soup, will be on the menu. The cost is $4 per person or $10 per family. Information/registration: firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-535-6458