Dandelion Petal Cordial

When you look at any grassy area, you’ll notice the sea of yellow dandelions. Since the provincial government banned many of the harmful weed killing treatments, these flowers have popped up everywhere. I guess you could say they are growing like weeds.

Don’t despair if your lawn looks a lot like ours did the other day. You may see big nasty weeds choking out the grass, but I see delicious possibilities! The other day I dug up quite a few dandelions for beer (more on that later) and noticed that there was still a lot of the little bastards left. Quick internet search (they have the internet on computers now) for what you can make with them, aside from beer, and I found a Swiss recipe for Dandelion Petal Cordial.

Seeing as I have 75L of alcohol brewing in the basement, I thought it was time to make something for the prohibitionists out there.

It’s simple really. Go out to your yard where you’re sure the cat or dog hasn’t left a gift, and with scissors, cut the heads off the dandelion plants. Using this method you’ll avoid bittering the drink with the milk contained in the stems. By pulling on the flowers you squeeze the bitterness all over them and it will spoil the flavour. I cut about 120 heads. I only picked the best of the best (there was quite a selection) and avoided any that were closing or weren’t very brilliant in colour. The idea with this recipe is to capture the essence of a warm day in a syrup. If you pick dull flowers it will taste like a miserable day, and if you want that taste, you’re better off just drinking from dirty puddles and eavestroughs.

Some of the dandelion heads

In the recipe it said to wash the heads. I didn’t for two reasons; I’m not worried about bugs, and why would I want to wash away all of the tasty pollen? If the green portion of the heads are included in the pot, the flavour will become bitter, so the yellow petals must be separated. Easier said than done. I had to split each flower in half and pull away the petals very carefully trying not to pull green with them. Midway through I started to fantasize about a machine that could do it for me. Yes, it’s a sad fantasy. After an hour, all of the heads had been processed. My fingers were a mix of yellow from the pollen, and black from the greens. With black finger nail tips I looked like I’d gone into someone’s nail polish collection and given myself a terrible French manicure.

100% petal, no green.

Referring back to the recipe, things became a little unclear. How much water? “Enough to cover the petals”. But the petals float. I could add 10 gallons and they still wouldn’t be covered! Yelling at computer doesn’t get you far, so I guessed at the amount of water. I brought the water to a boil, gave things a stir, and set it aside overnight with a lid on to steep.

Stop floating!

The next day, I strained off the petals, using a spoon to squeeze out every last drop of liquid. Then, I weighed the liquid and added 95% of the weight in sugar. I re-boiled the mixture until the sugar had dissolved. You’re supposed to add lemon to taste, but I forgot to get one and I couldn’t be bothered to go out so I left it out. Once the liquid had cooled enough, I poured the cordial into two sterilized bottles.

Finished product! Delicious!

Moment of truth. Added an 1/8″ of the cordial to a small glass and topped it up with fizzy water. Wow! It’s like the sun is shining from my mouth! Some people in this household weren’t as impressed and said it was too sweet. More for me.

Making a Sussex Trug

While watching Edwardian Farm, we noticed that they were using a really nice wood strip basket to collect fruit in. After looking all over the internet for what it was called, I found that it was a Sussex Trug. The design of the trug was developed over the last few hundred years and is renowned for its strength and durability in the garden.

The internet is an amazing resource where you can always find something on a specific topic. My topic was, “how to make a sussex trug”. Nothing. Then “how to make a trug”. Nothing. All I found was people protecting their trade secrets. Fair enough I suppose, but I just needed some basic information! In the end I found a video that at least discussed materials, and after a few paper models, I’d figured out the sizes and form of the strips.

Traditionally chestnut and willow were used to make the trug. Seeing as neither of those were readily available, I substituted with Baltic birch plywood. This isn’t your run of the mill plywood you get at the local big-box store. This is high quality, voidless, incredibly strong plywood. To simulate the thickness, I used 3-ply (1/8″-ish). The strips were cut with the grain into 60″ strips for the rim and handle, and 30″ strips for the basin.

To bend wood or plywood, you can’t just work it over your knee. The wood won’t shift, and if it does, it will snap. In the past I’ve built steam bending boxes, but at 60″, the strips were too big to construct a box for. Instead, I soaked the plywood in water overnight in a trough I made from some down spout and plastic sheeting. In the morning after soaking for 12 hours, I emptied the cold water and refilled with boiling water.

Soaking the strips of Baltic birch plywood

After another half an hour, the strips were fairly pliable. To create the desired shape of the handle and rim, I made two forms out of two 3/4″ pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) laminated and cut to the right size and shape. I lined the edge of the forms with wax paper to protect the MDF from soaking up any excess water from the strips.

MDF trug forms

With the forms ready to go, I worked quickly to bend the 1 1/4″ strips around the form, securing the strips with a ratchet strap. I left the forms with the Baltic birch wrapped around them in the sun to dry for the afternoon. That evening, I removed the bent pieces from the forms. At this point they loosely hold the shape, but need to be set in place to stay true to the shape.

The trug rim and handle after drying in the sun

Both rim and handle, are made up of three strips laminated together with waterproof glue. To do this, each preformed hoop is placed back on the form with glue between each hoop. It is important to alternate the seam of the hoops to avoid creating a weak point where the hoop will break. With the strips in place with glue between them, the ratchet straps went back on, and the pieces were left overnight to cure. Before bed I plunged the strips for making the basin into the water trough to soak.

The next day I added hot water to the trough as before, and removed the laminated pieces from the forms. After filing and sanding the edges round, I assembled the rim and handle. To hold everything together, I used copper nails. These nails will never rust, and when hammered into the wet basin strips, they leave blue marks in the wood which is pleasing to the eye. I think finding the right nails was probably the most time consuming part of the whole process. After going to Lee Valley and Home Depot, I found copper nails at Canadian Tire that were a little long, so I snipped a little off the end of each one.

Another feature of the trug is the wood feet to keep it upright and from spilling your harvest all over the floor. I used some leftover white poplar from our kitchen cabinet doors that I shaped and sanded to best match what I found on the internet.

Poplar trug feet

With the handle and rim assembled, it’s time to start the tricky part of nailing down the basin strips. Starting in the middle, the largest strip is nailed to the bottom of the handle hoop, then the feet, and finally the rim. As the wood is flexible from its night in the bath, it can be bent, with a little force, to conform to the desired shape. Strip by strip, the basin is assembled, overlapping each strip and carefully nailing each into place. Once complete, the rough looking trug is set out in the sun for the afternoon to finish drying which will set the pieces to their new bent forms.

On the final day, I trimmed all of the excess from the ends of the basin strips, and voilà, the trug is complete!

Side view of the trug

Top view of the finished trug

The trug is now waiting for the first harvest of the season so it can do its duty. At this point, I’m guessing that harvest will be weeds we’ve pulled from the garden. But don’t throw those weeds away! There are lots of things you can make from them. More to come on that in the following days.

Finished Cheese Press

I’ve finished my cheese press. I gave up on Friday night and finished assembling it on Saturday. I constructed it from an old maple table we were throwing away at work so there are a few nail holes in some of the pieces (it’s what you’d expect from a table used in a busy workshop). The base of the press is made from a piece of scrap I saved from a chair I built years ago. I CNC cut the base to help drain off the whey and ultimately flood my countertop.

The press is based on the typical Dutch-style cheese press. I had a look around online at what other people had made and modified it based on what I’ll be using it for and the material I had available.

After a coat of oil to protect the wood from staining, it’s ready to go. I’ll post more pictures later when I actually get it going with some cheese in.

By the end of this week we’ll have a hard cheese in the fridge ready to be waxed. The wax is for protecting it, not to remove hair. If you’ve made a cheese that has developed hair, leave it for a bit and see if you can teach it some basic commands or tricks.