Dandelions in Heaven

In a dark, dank, sunken shed next to the chicken house and en route to the orchard, my grandfather made wine, which he brought to the table in a pint jug. Every wasp in Warwickshire seemed to get wind of his activities, and I can see him now beating them off with his Panama as he scuttled along the nasturtium-lined path with a brimming jug, his oaths rising above the angry buzz.

Rhubarb, damson, elderflower and dandelion were among his favourites. How I loathed helping pick dandelions, which left a slimy deposit on my fingers and inspired my know-all aunt to predict they’d make me wet the bed. It would have been more romantic if we’d gathered them in baskets instead of brown carrier bags stamped with the name of a high-class grocer and provisioner.

We were on the brink of war, and the same grocer’s van took to calling two or three times a week stocking my grandmother with all she deemed would
soon be in short supply. High on her list was sugar, which my grandfather used liberally in wine-making, and she wasn’t happy until she had a regiment of blue bags of it on a larder shelf.

It would all be over in six weeks, my grandfather assured her, but Grandma banked on four years like the Great War. They were both wrong, and the reserve of sugar ran out in 1943, after which there was no more wine-making for many a long year, because rationing continued long after the war.

Having sampled my grandfather’s product from the age of four, I regarded wine with meals as no great shakes.

I was an undergraduate in the 1950s before I realised that an acquaintance with wine was not’ old hat, but a sign of sophistication, and an escort offering a half bottle of Entre Deux Mers had intentions -honourable or otherwise.

At about the same time home winemaking was rediscovered. This time around there were concentrated ingredients, fancy

equipment and even evening classes on the subject. I was baffled – all that investment to produce what my grandfather called “bottled sunshine”, except that he rarely used bottles. What’s more, he did it all by rule of thumb for only the cost of the sugar.

Like wine, people have to mature. Only when I reached the stage of not minding looking feeble did I recognise that I no more like red wine than I like rare meat. A pity, but everyone can’t be an all-rounder, and the name of the game is “a little of what you fancy…”

I like wine, gentle as a June morning, like Liebfraumilch. Tops, of course, is champagne. All those bubbles must be good for you – like taking an internal Jacuzzi.

Most of all, I enjoy it in summer in the garden, for in my mind I always associate it with flowers, sunshine and my grandfather, who must be happy as a lark picking dandelions in Heaven.

Pamela Howarth