Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lion's Teeth and Wetting the Bed

Consider the lowly dandelion.

Many think of it as an unwelcome weed in lawns of carefully manicured bluegrass; sticking up wildly with their jagged leaves, brilliant flower and moppy seedpod waiting to be blown by the wind or a child's breath.

For me though it also takes me to my grandfather.  Each spring before Sunday dinners he would head out into the fields and lawns (scruffy as they were) around their rural home and with his pocket knife he would cut the leaves off any dandelion he could find.  No delicate salad green for him my grandmother would boil them with salt beef to make a delicious dish of greens that would be served with the usual suspects as a welcome change. Today no-one would think of doing this for fear of what mysterious fertilizer or pesticide may have been used on that lawn or in that field.

My great-grandmother, Bess, called these flowers "Piss-a-Beds".  We though that this was just a strange nickname that she had dreamed up (one of many she gave things and people) and giggled at the vulgarity of it.  Little did we know that this name has a distinguished history going back to France where dandelions are often called "Pis-en-Lit" -- yes, "Piss in the Bed".  It seems that dandelion have a diuretic effect that must have surprised a few ancient Franks who did not get due warning from the name based on the shape of their leaves ("Dent de Leon -- "Teeth of the Lion", thus dandelion for us).

Today I enjoyed a dandelion and rocket salad.  For my grandfather this would have been a sad use of a fine leaf but at least he would have enjoyed a few hours in the sun getting them.  For me it was a drive to the market and four dollars.

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