In the summer, one hears homeowners cursing the dandelion. This pervasive plant easily takes up residence in lawns and gardens. Even in tinder-dry conditions, this hardy yellow flower finds a way to blossom.
Whereas most people see little value in the dandelion, two of Canada’s pioneer writers, Catharine Parr Traill (1802-1899) and Susanna Moodie (1803-1885), tried to reform the public’s perceptions. Having emigrated from England in 1832, the two sisters revised their categories of “weed” versus “flower.”
In Roughing It in the Bush, Moodie suggests that in the future, gardeners will be transplanting these “golden flowers” into their plots (377). Moodie praises the plant for its rapid growth, noting that its leaves make an excellent salad.
Catharine Parr Traill describes the dandelion at length–including the sedative qualities of its milky juice– in her Studies of Plant Life in Canada. When offering domestic advice in The Canadian Settler’s Guide, Traill admires Moodie’s culinary ingenuity when it comes to making dandelion coffee. She includes Moodie’s famous recipe for this substitute beverage. Because settlers often lived far from town or had no money to purchase “necessary luxuries” (136), pioneers needed to concoct creative alternatives for their daily fare.
A word to the wise from Traill: when cleaning dandelion roots, don’t remove the brown skin, as it adds to the flavour of your dandelion coffee.
And don’t assume that dandelion coffee is a culinary relic from Canada’s nineteenth-century backwoods.
If you look to the near-future of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam, you’ll discover the last human survivors on earth serving their morning breakfasts alongside dandelion coffee. The drink is so popular in this post-pandemic world, where climate change has destroyed the coffee industry, that this thirsty community harvests all the dandelions in sight!
Entry and Photos by: Shelley Boyd
Canadian Literary Fare al fresco
Atwood, Margaret. MaddAddam. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2013. Print.
Boyd, Shelley. Garden Plots: Canadian Women Writers and Their Literary Gardens. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013. Print.
– – – . “Ustopian Breakfasts: Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam.” Utopian Studies 26.1 (2015): 160-181. Print.
Moodie, Susanna. Roughing It in the Bush or Life in Canada. 1852. Ed. Carl Ballstadt. Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts Series. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988. Print.
Traill, Catharine Parr. The Canadian Settler’s Guide. 1855. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1969. Print.
– – – . The Female Emigrant’s Guide, and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping. Toronto: Maclear, 1854.
– – – . Studies of Plant Life in Canada. 1885. New and rev. ed. Toronto: William Briggs, 1906.