Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Italian Magic: The Dandelion

This past weekend, I was happy to see that the Dandelions were starting to bloom. I ran out and dug up a bucketful, and took them into the house to start prepping them for salad. After I had them cleaned and ready to eat, I decided to call my mother to see if she would like to have some of the day’s “harvest”. To my surprise, she told me that she and my father were just finishing up their lunch. Included on their menu for the day was…….. Dandelion Salad! She’d beat me to it!

I remember as a boy, watching my Grandpop Salvo pick the Dandelions from our yard, and bring them into the house in either a pot or a colander. Eventually they would be washed and then “vanish”. I did not know for sure what was being done with these WEEDS (yes, the average American sees them as weeds unfortunately) once they were washed, but couldn’t help but wonder.

And then, one day I noticed that there was a different looking “salad” on the table during lunch, served in a glass bowl. I said “what is that??”, to which I was told………. “Dandelion Salad”. I can’t remember during my first experience seeing them, if they had hard-boiled eggs with them or not. But if it wasn’t during that initial time, it definitely was during a subsequent serving of them that I remember seeing them with hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes they would even include a mixture of what our family calls “chi chi’s” (chick peas or garbanzo beans). You can add this dish to the list of what I considered “A Menu for the Mentally Insane or Senile” at that time.

I have to reiterate that when my grandfather lived with us, I was a little boy. I was born in 1971, and he moved in with us in 1973. I’ve said it in previous posts here on the blog, but I’ll say it again now: growing up with my Grandpop Salvo around was sooooooooo different from what I would see at homes of friends who were my age. If I had lunch at a friend’s house at that time, the menu would include items like : peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs, or maybe even a piece of frozen pizza. I can tell you as I sit here typing this, that NEVER at that time did I walk into a friend’s house to have them say “oh hey my mom just put Dandelion Salad on the table- you want some??”

As I got older, I eventually tried them. It was something I could take or leave. With their slightly bitter, peppery taste, I wondered what damaged psyche would actually “enjoy” eating something of this nature. Not to mention the fact that I never recalled seeing anyone else on our street pulling stuff out of their yards and throwing it on the dinner table! It really makes you wonder as a child, what alternate dimension you’re living in when this stuff is going on every day in your house, and you KNOW it’s not happening at the places where your friends live.. And do you dare mention it to a friend, to see what they would say about it all? NO WAY. “Yeah, I might be living with aliens, but I’m not telling anyone else that! They won’t talk to me anymore!”

I did eventually ask my parents and grandfather why people would even eat these things. The reply that came back was the same that would be provided when things like escarole (pronounced “scuttle” in our home), turnips, broccoli rabe, and other strange veggies made their way to the table: “because it’s good for you”. That was it. “OK so if these things are so good for you, then why are we the only ones on our BLOCK eating them from our YARD”, I thought to myself.. But at that age, you don’t ask questions in that fashion, unless you want to find yourself unconscious.

Over Easter weekend, I told my wife’s grandmother (a native of San Pietro a Maida, Italy), that on the day prior, I’d been out gathering Dandelions for salad. I sat eagerly awaiting her reaction, as it’s the first time I think I’ve ever gotten to mention to her that our family eats them. Her 89-year old eyes suddenly widened, and she said with a smile, “YOU EAT DANDELION SALAD??!!”. I said yes, by all means. She told me that she’d not had them since she was a little girl. I told her the story that I have just recaptured here, and as I told it to her, she smiled the entire time. She too is from the age of my grandfather (who would have been 106 this year if he were still alive), so she always enjoys me telling her about the traditions I try my best to continue on from Grandpop Salvo’s family.

As many of our readers probably already know, the Dandelion truly is “good for you”, as I was taught decades ago. But why it’s good is for many reasons: it works as a natural diuretic, it purifies the blood, contains multiple vitamins, and even sustains the immune system. Funny how they never mention that on the Scott’s Turf Builder ads!

Buona Pasqua to all of our readers...


  1. My mother's first memory of dinner with my father's family is of looking out the window and seeing my great-grandmother out in the field picking dandelion greens for the salad. It left quite a first impression on her, and she talks about it to this day.

    My great-grandmother's dandelion salad almost always included hard boiled eggs and bacon. And often, the dandelion greens were part of a larger salad of assorted wild greens from the field - not just a bowl of dandelion greens alone.

    Dad still makes his salads "just like Grandmom."

  2. from my Aunt Alma (Tambourelli) MacCallum:

    "I so remember going out with grndmom & mom to the park an gathering buckets full. Grandmom Robino made the finest dandelion wine you would ever taste. And yes, I drank wine when I was very young. It was expected you should at least taste the wine that was offered. Sometimes it came with 7UP. In the Spring, Dandelion Salad was a treat for me.. Grandmom always saved the small ones for salad. Grandpop made his own vinegar (from the wine he produced each year). I can still taste the difference from the stuff we get now...blaaaak. The salad (with hard boiled eggs) would have just the right dressing!! Yum! I have only seen Dandelion greens in the market here [in Georgia] once..they were droopy not fresh. Too bad. Now you have me hankering for a salad! Thanks for the memory!"

  3. from my cousin, Rich Ghione:

    "Here's one for you: Did you ever have mustard plant? I forget how to spell it in Italian [possibly "cinecelop"]. I remember growing up and seeing all of the older Italians out in the field picking the tops for their salad! I asked my parents what they were eating and then my mother told me the Italian name, and then explained it was mustard plant. How's that? See if anybody remembers how to spell it."

  4. from another one of our readers, Fran Rizzo:

    "Hi Jim, read your blog post, brought back memories. My uncle lived with us from the time I could remember till he married in 1938- he had a friend who he worked with, single also, and during the season on Sunday they would go and pick Dandelions and bring back for my mother to make the salad for them (and us also). And one other thing, my dad made 2 or 3 barrels of wine every year, that was a festival in itself.

    Also, my father and aunt would buy a pig and a small calf each year, they would have them killed and butchered. Then for a couple of nights we all would help making sausage, hams and hanging meat, ie proscuitto. And where do you think we got the casing for the sausage? From the intestines! We washed and cleaned them, then we had the fun of stuffing them. And pigs feet, they were a treat- put in vinegar. Talk about aliens! Today’s people would not believe it."