Reader recently writ from Pennsylvania about the springtime joys of dandelion greens, protesting that down there they don't brutally boil the things the way we do in Maine, but eat 'em raw except for the relish of a hot sauce. This is a good thing to know, and it made me think of our Kathryn, back aways, when she spurned the lobster at the Poland Spring hotel. That hotel, which burned in 1975 , wasn't far from us, so we would go there a couple of times each summer to take dinner and loll about amongst the guests just as if we, too, had money and needed the splendid treatment to allay our workaday woes and regroup us for the rest of a non-Maine year. With the water from Poland Spring, the hotel put together a vacation value never exceeded by other spas and resorts, and the huge dining room spared nothing in cates and dainties, or in their preparation and presentation. We knew the head waiter, and his wife usually took our table, so we were always pleasantly received and got good care. We also knew Charlie Conners, who managed the vast establishment, and he would come to visit at our table, patting the youngsters on their heads. The Poland Spring hotel dining room gave us a perfect place to inculcate the social graces in our offspring, and they responded to the elegance and minded their manners. All went well until the evening Kathryn decided to have the lobster.
She was just about school age, pigtailed and perky, but with the aplomb of the Queen's Housekeeper she enunciated her desires in her turn and returned the seven-page menu to the waitress to be thanked in charming dignity. The waitress went to the kitchens. The charm and dignity, aforesaid, of the Poland Spring hotel are long lost and bygone. The waitress never carried in the food. It came on a silver tray the size of Galahad's shield, high on the hand of a liveried busboy who marched with the stately tread of a Roman century, the waitress in time and in tune at his heels. The head received them, superintending the lowering of the tray and making certain every amenity was impeccably correct. The arrival of food at a Poland Spring table was something to see, like a sunset over Lake Louise, and just about everybody in the dining room would pause to observe the ceremony, politely restraining an urge to applaud the performance. The lobster was placed before Kathy as nectar and ambrosia would have been presented to Olympian Juno, and there was heard immediately throughout the dining room that young lady's clear, piping statement of fact: ''That's not the way my mother cooks it!''
The pouring of a hot sauce over dandelion greens is a fine idea, entirely compatible with the dominant Maine opinion that dandelion greens need all the help they can get. Being better endowed than Pennsylvania with native goodies, we have fiddleheads galore, shore goosers, and even winter-cured parsnips, not to mention the pie-plant - or rhubarb - to allay the tendency to make dandelion greens a vernal ritual. We even have people who come right out and say dandelion greens aren't fit to eat. But if one must, the hot sauce will give way to a rolling boil for a couple of hours, or until the house smells like a pine-planked old farm kitchen on wash day, a dandelion aroma said to have inspired the song ''Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder?'' After that, the dandelion greens can be hove to the hens and the family can greet the springtime with some corned beef hash and a dropped egg. If one insists on dandelion greens, they can be boiled with a generous chunk of fat salt pork, and anointed at table liberally with 90-score butter and a surfeit of undiluted cider vinegar. This keeps the dandelion greens from tasting too much like dandelion greens, which should always be taken into consideration. Life has enough problems without dandelion greens that taste like dandelion greens. Furthermore, in a land of bounty and beauty, where cultural genius has given us hot dogs and McChickies and submarines, there is no nutritional purpose in mortifying the alimentary tract with dandelion greens just because the sun crosses the line.
We had a maternal uncle who was accounted peculiar in some ways, and it was his whim to perpetuate things like a springtime feed of dandelion greens. He also spoke well of tomato mincemeat, vinegar pies, and dried apples in season. But Uncle Lem wasn't all that peculiar, and when he sat down to celebrate the arrival of spring with a soup plate of dandelion greens, he always plastered them with mustard, molasses, and mint jelly. Said that helped.