Even though I never met him, I was saddened to learn this morning that one on North Americas leading foragers Peter Gail has died. I first came across him on the old foraging email groups, first Edible Wild in 1999 and later Wild Forager and Forage Ahead…which inspired me to buy his book Dandelion Celebration (1994). He was the first person I had come across that had actually planted a dandelion bed in his garden and he also organised the National Dandelion Cookoff in Dover, Ohio for many years! You can find the excerpt about Gail from my book Around the World in 80 plants below!
Excerpt from Around the World in 80 plants:
“I eventually saw the light (about eating dandelions”when I followed a discussion on the ForageAhead email group between two of North
America’s leading foragers ‘Dandelion Dude’ Peter Gail and John Kallas. Gail has written several essays and books about dandelions including his Dandelion Celebration (1994). He also founded the group ‘Defenders of Dandelions’ to provide information to those who want to make their neighbours aware just how good dandelions are and stop the chemical warfare. He has also organised the National Dandelion Cookoff in Dover, Ohio, still going strong since 1993. Gail says he ate dandelions every day, fresh in the summer and in dehydrated form in winter, growing his own from transplanted wild roots on raised beds in his garden for ease of access. Gail has been rightly coined the King of the Dandelions! However, it was John Kallas’ web essay Making Dandelions Palatable that explains how such a bitter weed could be so popular around the world. To start with, Gail admits to thinking he was being poisoned the first time he ate dandelion and Kallas also found them very bitter, but was determined to solve the riddle. He first points out that foraging books downplay the bitterness and thinks that the oft-quoted difference between the first mild leaves in spring and bitter at flowering time is also exaggerated. As a result many people are
disappointed and permanently put off when they sample their first dandelion. I was with him here … He says that as part of his PhD he interviewed old timers in rural Michigan. Dandelions were the most common wild collected food in this group and, no, they weren’t bitter, they said. Upon asking how they prepared the dandelions they explained that the fresh leaves were mixed with bacon grease, bacon, eggs, salt and sometimes vinegar. Incidentally, salade de pissenlit et lardons (salad of dandelion and bacon) is still prepared in France today. In most cultures as you can see in the around-the-world review above, dandelions are almost never eaten fresh alone.”