On the Summer of Nothing, the Return of English Magic, and Making Dandelion Wine

Back in June, my thirteen-year old daughter told me she and her friends had hatched a plan. They'd just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird and they decided that this summer would be the "summer of nothing", meaning there would be no plans, no camps, no pre-arranged playdates. They were going to do the "old-fashiony go to each others' house without calling first" and just "do nothing", like it was Maycomb County in the 1930s. She told me it was all going to be very "Instagram-worthy".  I told her I was pretty sure Scout and Jem didn't have Instagram.

So now, on these last days of summer, I would like to reflect on the "summer of nothing". As far as the girls are concerned, it was a surprising success. It was, to quote my daughter, "the summer of everything". There was a lot of bike riding to each others' houses and hanging out, and very little calling first. (Instead they InstaMessaged.) As for me, maybe it was just my choice of summer reading, which always seems to serve as the soundtrack to summer, but I must say, this summer has been pretty magical. I started the summer reading the 1006 page tome, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a masterpiece of the fantastic that I could write extensively about, but I will say only this now. Read It. Or, if for some unfathomable reason you don't want to inhabit a world where magic is real for 1006 pages, then you can watch it too. It was made into a single-season BBC series that aired this summer. I recommend the book. It takes longer. Finishing this book felt like losing a friend.  

Jonathan Strange goes inside a mirror.

And finally, as we all know, the end of summer means only one thing — that winter is coming. In preparation, and still under the spell of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, my final read of summer, I have made a batch of dandelion wine to be uncorked and consumed in January (along with the many other fine wines and spirits that will arm me with hyggelig and help fend off the White Walkers). Bradbury doesn't offer a proper step-by-step recipe, but I have done my best to compile one from the pages of his book.

Ray Bradbury's Recipe for Dandelion Wine

Ingredients

1 Grandfather standing on the wide front porch, who, after questioning the wind, the lawn and the untouchable sky, tells you when it's time to pluck this noble weed.

Five hundred, a thousand, two thousand golden flowers. A good supply, plucked carefully, in sacks, and taken to the cellar below.

1 wine press, standing open, cold.

Water from a rain barrel, summoned from lakes far away and sweet fields of grassy dew on early morning, lifted to the open sky, carried nine hundred miles, then made into rain. Rain from the 1920s preferably.

Ketchup jars

Time for a reprint with new cover art.

Directions

First, drop the flowers into the press, then pour the rain (carried in a dipper and bucket to the cellar) over the dandelion harvest, and squeeze gently on the crop.

Take the liquid released from the press, the golden tide, the essence of June, add sugar and yeast, and crock it. This liquid will then (some unmentioned time later, I'm waiting three weeks) need to be skimmed of ferment and bottled in clean ketchup shakers, then ranked in sparkling rows in the cellar gloom.

Wait 6 months.

Some wintry day in February, tiptoe down into the dank twilight and rise like a June goddess and carry into every miserable room this medicine of another time, this balm of sun and idle August afternoons, the faintly heard sounds of ice wagons passing on brick avenues, the rush of silver skyrockets and the fountaining of lawn mowers moving through ant countries, summer caught and stoppered.

Drink and enjoy.