Thursday, June 20, 2013

Grow, then Eat Your Flowers (at least some of them)

Edible Flowers
By Anna Herman

According to Michael Pollen’s book Food Rules, having a bouquet of flowers on the table makes the food taste twice as good.   How many times better could dinner be if the flowers move from the center of the table to the center of the plate?    

Many commonly grown flowers are both tasty and decorative additions to salads, entrees and desserts.  Since blooms are a fleeting moment in a plant’s life cycle, I view flowers as “hyper-seasonal”- an ingredient to mark an ephemeral moment in time.

If you are in the habit of using fresh herbs in your cooking, adding edible flowers to your culinary repertoire is a natural outgrowth.

Flowers, like most plants, are full of vitamins, assorted phyto-chemicals, antioxidants and other nutrients.  They add color, flavor and pizz-azz.  

How do you know what flowers you can and can’t consume?  Most edible flowers are easy to i.d., and many grow like weeds in your yard, and around your neighborhood.    Don’t eat flowers from a florist, which may be sprayed with pesticide, or preserved for shipping.   Look for organically grown flowers at farm markets in season, or grow your own.    Don’t choose specimens grown along busy roads, or in the path where dogs take their regular walks.

Early spring fruit trees such as nectarine, pear, peach and apples offer fragrant flowers to steep in wine or syrup, which combined with fresh fruit add a mild floral note to an orchard blossom Sangria.   Delicate clusters of purple-topped chives are another early season treat.  Simply snip the florets of the delicate onion flavored flower heads into salads, onto chicken, fish or potatoes, or transform white wine vinegar into a lovely lavender colored ingredient pre-seasoned for vinaigrettes and marinades.

Many greens will flower if left unpicked, so be on the lookout for the yellow flowers of kale or mustard greens in your garden as the weather warms.   Arrugula plants will bloom bracts of delicate white flowers that have a piquant herbaceous flavor.  In fact the flowers of most edible herbs such as thyme, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and dill, are a tasty “extra” as the gardening and farm market season progresses.

Edible flowers such as pansies and violas don’t have much flavor but they do add a romantic splash of color to garnish cakes, cupcakes, and cheese plates.   Other flowers, such as nasturtium are both visually dramatic and full of peppery-cress like zest.  Herb flowers and cucumber flavored borage are savory,  while lilac, roses and elderberry are floral and sweet.   

Most edible flowers are eaten fresh, as an adornment or component of a dish.  Others, such as roses or elderflowers, can be infused into syrups or delicate broths, where the fragrant floral qualities are enhanced and softened.  Lilac syrup brushed on a simple yellow cake transforms it to the days of elegant Victorian afternoon tea.   Pea and bean blossoms along with many squash blossoms have sufficient texture and substance to saute, even to batter dip and fry.

The earliest edible flowers each spring are wild violets, violas and pansies, which seem to blanket the neighborhood.  A few flowers or petals add a spring cheer to whatever they adorn. These flowers can be home-candied with simple syrup and superfine sugar to preserve their beauty and later garnish a simple cake or bowl of ice cream.  Pea flowers, roses, calendula, nasturtiums and flowering herbs to follow.   Learn to identify a few flowers where they grow, or trust a local farmer to harvest them for you.

People have been eating and garnishing with flowers for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks put violet petals in their wine.   Romans, and later the Ottomans, regularly used roses to flavor dishes from savory lamb to super sweet Turkish delight.   Bitter Dandelions have been used as a tonic or in wine in traditional diets from China to Greece.  The Victorians added violets, primroses and borage to their salads.

Flowers tend to be delicate and require gentle care from garden or market to table.
Wash if needed and pat or air dry, and use within a day or so.   Flowers with stems can be kept in a jar of water, like the bouquet of flowers they are.

Use with abandon,  or highlight simple meal with a flourish.  Our new food rule….eat your flowers, they make everything twice as good and twice as pretty.

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