Mail Call March/April 2015: Dandelion Salad, Woodstoves, Heirloom Seeds and More

Readers share their memories and insights about dandelion salad, woodstoves, heirlooms seeds and more.

Dandelion salad

Dandelion salad is one of the most underutilized tastes of spring. Try some for yourself this year using our recipes.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/meteo021

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Dandelion Salad

I sat down to glance through my GRIT, and I was somewhat surprised to see a recipe for Miss Bonnie’s Dandelion Green Salad in the January/February issue, and so surprised it was very different from my grandmother’s. It made me think about how much I learned from my grandparents.My dad’s parents lived right below us on about 8 acres of open field, old pasture and woods. They had sold Mom and Dad a lot at the top of the hill, and that is where we built a house when I was about 4 years old. My sister and I were lucky being able to grow up that close to our grandparents.

“Pap,” Joe Becker, made the best fried chicken and turtle soup. We used to check on turtles that were kept in a 55-gallon drum to be “cleaned out” before becoming soup. We helped feed the steer, knowing he would one day be in our freezer. As children we would pester Pap for a swig of his beer, especially in the fall when he had Bock beer. On holidays we were allowed a shot glass full of homemade dandelion or elderberry wine. We were fed things like sweet breads and brains (miss those) and squirrel pot pie. I never was fond of groundhog, though. Many days there was a pan of salt water with a carcass of some wild animal soaking to “draw out the gaminess.”

“Ev,” Evelyn Bless Becker (and Lord help my sister or me if we dared call either of them Grandpa or Grandma), was a Euell Gibbons fan. Poke and nettles I remember. She taught us what berries were safe to eat along the road and in the woods. We knew to go to her for a jewel weed ice cube to rub on ourselves if we thought we had been into poison ivy.

Eating dandelions, though, was one of my favorites. The flower buds steamed and slathered with butter and salt were good, but the salad was what I looked forward to. I would be so happy when I walked down the path through the woods to their place in early spring and saw Ev out on the hill that we might have been sledding down just six weeks beforehand. Spring had sprung, and there Ev was, old knife in hand, digging up and stuffing what most people despised as weeds into a plastic bag that had once held 4 quarts of milk. I knew I would not be eating supper at home that night!

The dandelions had to be picked over for bugs and extraneous greenery, washed, put in the colander and set on the drain board of the old white enameled sink to drain. Next, a fair amount of bacon was diced up. It had to be almost frozen, for it diced easier that way. That was fried up to crispy little bits, with lots of nice bacon grease, in a small steel pan. As that sat to cool down, the greens were added to the bowl used for dandelion salad.

In the meantime, my job was to peel a few of the hard-boiled eggs that were ever present in the refrigerator, and slice them with the egg slicer. These were added to the top of the greens.

Now that the bacon and pan had cooled, Ev would crack in an egg (this is why the pan had to cool—you didn’t want that egg cooking before you made the dressing). Next came apple cider vinegar and water (about 3/4 cup water to 1/4 cup vinegar), a few tablespoons of sugar, and then she would start stirring constantly as the heat was turned back on. A few adjustments until the taste was right (not too sweet, not too much vinegar), pour the hot dressing over the dandelion greens, and mix well. Heaven.

My grandmother passed away in 1996. Not long after, I took it upon myself to start making dandelion salad for Easter dinner. I admit, I cheat. On rare occasion, my mom or I will take the time to go pick the real deal out of our yards, but one local grocery store carries organic large-leafed dandelion greens almost year-round, so I buy that. My sister will even eat it now, claiming I do not make it as sweet as Ev did. Dad says it is as good if not better than his mother’s. I make Ev’s cucumber salad, too. I like to think it helps Dad remember his parents in some little way. We may not have as many family traditions as some, but many of our memories center on food.

Sheri Becker
New Oxford, Pennsylvania


Wood Heat

I just read your article Heating with a Wood Burning Stove in the January/February issue, and wanted to share the story of my family’s woodstove. My husband and I built a “barn house” in 2008 near Winfield in south-central Kansas. We built it with an open floor plan in hopes we would be able to keep it heated in the winter using only wood. We do have central heat, but have probably only used it 10 times in the six years we have lived in our home—when the temps were below zero and the stove couldn’t keep up. When the temperature is normal, we stay toasty using just wood heat.

My husband also designed a heat transfer system on the top of the stove to heat water that then goes into the radiant heat system we laid before pouring our concrete floor.

We always enjoy reading about self-sufficient practices on your website.

Sarah Werner
www.WernerCreekFarm.com


More Wood Burners

I enjoyed your latest editorial column about heating with wood, something we’ve done in our home for nearly 40 years. Don’s favorite pastime is cutting firewood, and we’ve been able to harvest enough from our own property—cutting only dead and downed trees—for all this time. When we purchased additional acreage some 10 years ago, it had a section of dead-standing ash that has helped fuel our wood furnace and our wood-burning sauna stove since then. The wood furnace not only heats the house through a propane hot water boiler system, it also heats our domestic water. There’s nothing like wood heat, especially when we come in from outside on a bitter cold night like last night’s minus-15 degrees Fahrenheit. We love it, and it has saved us thousands of dollars in propane costs over the years.

Keep up the good work. I enjoyed reading the latest issue and always find good tips in GRIT.

Margaret Haapoja
Bovey, Minnesota


Heated to the Core

Great article!

Something deep inside me loves heating my house with the stored energy of wood. You don’t get the fumes of propane, and the heat just warms your core.

My house is off-grid solar with a propane backup, and I have never been more fulfilled.

Thanks so much for the inspiration with the magazine.

Nick Evertsen
Odessa, New York

Thanks for the letters, Sarah, Margaret and Nick, and we couldn’t agree more: There is nothing quite like wood heat, especially when you cut, split and stack the wood yourself. We’ve even devoted special issues to the topic. Check out our Complete Guide to the Woodlot to read more. —Editors


Passion for Heirloom Seed

In your editorial of GRIT Magazine, you encourage readers to send in photos, showing what they’re up to ... here’s a brief description from my neck of the woods.

For years, I have been saving heirloom flower, herb and vegetable seeds—growing heirloom tomato seeds into seedlings and selling them each spring. I specialize in open-pollinated varieties that grow in our short growing season of Zone 3 up in the northeastern part of Minnesota. I’m also an artist and am currently on a mission to share the importance of growing and saving heirloom seeds by using my illustrations on the packaging of the seeds. I’ve just finished revamping my website, Wild Green Onion, and include seed starting and saving tips. More varieties and tips continue to appear. I’m also trying to get the word out about saving heritage breeds of poultry and animals. Living off-grid without electricity or running water in a restored 1870s log cabin keeps life interesting as well.

Thank you for this opportunity to share “my world.” Keep up the good work with GRIT, which is always an interesting read.

Rebecca Stouffer
Ely, Minnesota

Your illustrations, as well as your dedication to heirloom seeds and heritage livestock—celebrating rural heritage in general—is right up our alley, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing. —Editors


Self-Reliance

The Reiss family was busy this year getting our act together in the sustainability department. We’ve always had a garden, but this year we made it bigger so we would have enough produce to get us through the winter. We’ve always raised chickens for eggs, and this year I learned how to butcher and process them for meat. When I was first married 30 years ago, we had a clothesline. The backyard once again sports a new clothesline. The biggest endeavor our family accomplished in 2014—one that I’m most proud of—is the new American-made 2,200-watt (24-volt) solar-powered battery storage system with 300 amp hours of battery-powered backup. The nickel-iron batteries are freeze-resistant and rated for 11,000 cycles (30 years) at 80 percent depth of charge.

It’s a satisfying feeling to be energy independent and back on track to being self-reliant.

Tammy Reiss
Gilbertsville, New York

Rural ingenuity at its best, Tammy! Thanks for sharing, and we continue to be amazed by our skillful and inspiring readers. —Editors


Former Delivery Boy

I just ran across the GRIT Magazine on the Internet and was surprised that it was still being published.

I remember when I was a young boy (I’m 70 years old now) in southeast Missouri, I had a GRIT paper route on which I had approximately 50 families to whom I would deliver on my bike. My dad and mom said that if I took this job, I would have to deliver the paper during bad weather, too—which I did. The income I made delivering the paper gave me spending money and the feeling of accomplishment. Those where the good ole days.

Thank you for the memories.

Wayne Coleman
Jefferson City, Missouri