One of my favorite benefits of living on a shoestring is the way it inspires gratitude for really basic things. Take dandelions. I’ve always enjoyed their abundant golden announcement of a new season. But ever since my family has landed inadvertently in the vicinity of the poverty line, these ubiquitous beauties have become more than a symbol.
We’re big vegetable-eaters around here, and during the growing season we enjoy an economical way to obtain plenty of our favorites: we’re members of a local CSA. Before our financial dive we used to switch over in the winter from the CSA and our own garden to purchasing organic greens from the health food store. No problem.
But one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my immersion course in shoestring living is the reason why people in lower income brackets have a reputation for eating starches and proteins while skipping the greens: calories. When money is really scarce the main goal of eating becomes getting enough. Feeling full. Making sure your children feel full at the end of a meal. It’s been humbling for me, erstwhile passionate crusader for very healthy eating, to find myself resorting to prioritizing according to the “fullness factor.” A great antidote for judging others.
In our recent cash-strapped winters, I’ve done the best I could to keep the vegetables showing up on the table–but that has usually meant squashes and root vegetables I’ve stored from the fall CSA shares, not the greens we used to bring home weekly from Whole Foods all winter.
Winter root-eating is an old and genetically-familiar way for humans to live, and I’ve learned to flow with the necessity to revive it. It fits with my keep-it-local ethic anyway. But there is definitely a difference between CHOOSING to eat mostly roots all winter and truly being unable to afford much else. By mid-winter my body and taste buds come to crave fresh stuff like a bad case of cabin fever.
So, the dandelions. My feeling about them (and the plethora of other wild things popping up) has the intensity of a child’s sense of wonder about the world: FOOD?!! Just showing up in my backyard! No money involved at all. Not even any digging, planting, or weeding. I almost literally can’t believe such a thing is possible, after all these months.
The closer to the bone, the closer to the land, I find myself, the more awed I am by the riches that just show up. These golden backyard wonders, packed with nutrients and flavor, enter my life with such ease. I don’t have to figure out how to get them, painstakingly search them out, arrange my schedule for them, or carefully conserve them. I don’t even need to deserve them. I simply–reverently–accept their gift. A few steps into the kitchen and a few minutes later, my family’s cabin fever is over. We’re feasting on fritters.
We eat other spring wild things, and we eat dandelion flowers and greens in lots of ways, but dandelion fritters have become the one celebratory necessity: our sure evidence that a season of unbidden abundance has arrived at our doorstep.
Want to give fritters–these delightful, surprisingly-tasty, family-friendly gems–a try?
1 cup milk
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Pick a basketful of dandelion blossoms. (I’ve never counted how many, so you’ll have to wing it.) Pick them in bright daylight when they’re open, then use immediately (before they close). Beat the egg with the milk, then mix in the flour. Grasping a blossom by the stem, twirl it in the batter, then plop it blossom-side-down onto a hot oiled skillet. Repeat until the skillet is full. When the fritters are cooked on the bottom, flip them so they cook on the other side.
Repeat ’til all the batter is used up. (Doubling the above recipe makes a fine celebratory supper for three hungry people.) Dip them in maple syrup, honey, or mustard. They taste best outdoors, in the midst of the whole dandelion gestalt!