“Flowers are lovely, flowers are nice, I like flowers mixed with rice.” Mary Rosewood
What a lush time of year! It is like a symphony of colors and abundance. The vegetables that the sun has tenderly serenaded for months are responding with a magnificent crescendo. And the flowers, oh my the flowers! They are the dancers blooming and bobbing around to the music of everything growing. As I see them pirouetting about, I think how sweet they will taste in my salad.
Eating flowers is not just my twitch, it goes back in time and has become almost a lost culinary treat. The Romans used mallow, roses and violets in many of their dishes. The piquant caper, which is the flower bud of the Mediterranean evergreen, has also been used in European cooking for over 2000 years. Queen Victoria was really into flowers in all her food so there was a surge of flower power during the Victorian Era. But then they gently faded from the kitchen and back into the garden until the last decade.
Most folks aren’t aware how many flowers are edible. When one thinks “edible flowers” the mind pulls up voluptuous roses and sweet lavender. Yet there are well over 40 edible flowers growing right here in the Northwest and quite possibly your back yard. Before you go out and start foraging there are a few safety tips to keep in mind.
First off, know your edible flowers so you won’t eat something poisonous like foxgloves which can give you a heart attack. Second, only eat blossoms that you know haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, preferably from your yard or your organic farmer. Flowers have a tendency to store any pesticides or whatnot used on them, so can be toxic. Some people remove the stamens before eating if they are prone to pollen allergies. Generally the sepals of most flowers are also removed except on violas and pansies. (But I have been known to eat them if they aren’t tough and bitter.)
It’s best to pick flowers just before you want to use them and when they are just opened, then wash carefully in cold water. Once well washed, allow them to dry naturally at room temperature on a clean kitchen towel. They can then be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel in it, until ready to use but preferably not longer than 3 days.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s do some flower cookery. The easiest way to add flowers into your dishes is to toss them into salads. They add such beauty! Flowers tend to have a very mild and gentle flavor so take that into account when you are working with them. So be careful with the loud flavors like garlic and onion in your flower power salad.
Here are some other great ways to use flowers in your food;
♥Decorate desserts such as cupcakes and sorbets with candied edible flowers
♥Make a flower petal tea
♥Add flower petals to egg dishes such as omelets and scrambles
♥Drop edible flowers into drinks
♥Make syrups with them for serving over ice cream, pancakes or anything!
♥Toss flower petals such as calendula* into your rice pot for a lovely color
*Calendula is North America’s saffron in color and taste (well, almost)
♥Make an extract or water (i.e. rosewater) and use in your recipes instead of vanilla
♥Freeze ice cubes* with flowers in them to serve with your drinks
*Boil water first to make sure the ice cubes are crystal clear
♥Add flower petals to a cake, biscuit and cookie batters for a lovely lift
Now the part you have all been waiting to learn; what flowers are edible? I am going to group the flowers in two categories, sweet and savory. My personal favorite sweet flowers are impatients, honeysuckle, lavender, primrose, viola, pansy, roses, chamomile, clover and violets. The favored savory flowers are chive, garlic, sage, rosemary, calendula, nasturtiums, kale, scarlet runner beans, basil and borage. Some flowers that are edible that might come as a surprise are fuchsias, day lilies, gladiolus, snapdragons and peony.
The best way to learn more is to go on line and search for “edible flowers” in your area. You will get many a web site on many a different edible flower. They even have the flavors of them listed. You can also find out more details about the flowers, i.e. the honeysuckle flower is edible but not the berry. Another tip to remember is that if the fruit and leaves of the plant are edible then flower is too. A good example of this is herb blossoms.
I have put some recipes for candied flowers and a few others for your pleasure. I invite you to get in touch with your inner flower fairy and enjoy the abundance of the sweet summer flowers in your kitchen. Maybe plan ahead and dry some flower petals or make some rose syrup for the winter blues. The uses are only limited by the imagination!
Crystallized/Candy Edible Flowers:
Candied flowers and petals can be used in a variety of imaginative ways – to decorate cakes large and small – all kinds of sweet things, such as ice cream, sherbet, crèmes and fruit salads, cocktails.
1 egg white or powdered egg whites
Superfine granulated sugar (either purchased or made in a blender or food processor – just blend regular sugar until extra-fine)
Violets, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, rose petals, lilac, borage, pea, pinks, scented geraniums, etc.
Wire rack covered with wax paper
Carefully clean and completely dry the flowers or petals.
Beat the egg white in the small bowl until slightly foamy, if necessary add a few drops of water to make the white easy to spread.
Paint each flower individually with beaten egg white using the small paintbrush. When thoroughly coated with egg white, sprinkle with superfine sugar.
Place the coated flowers or petals on wax paper on a wire rack. Let dry at room temperature (this could take 12 to 36 hours). To test for dryness, check the base of the bloom and the heart of the flower to make sure they have no moisture. Flowers are completely dry when stiff and brittle to the touch. NOTE: To hasten drying, you may place the candied flowers in an oven with a pilot light overnight, or in an oven set at 150 degrees to 200 degrees F with the door ajar for a few hours.
Store the flowers in layers, separated by tissue paper, in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.
Be sure you have a brick and heat-safe stainless steel or glass quart bowl ready before you begin.
2-3 quarts fresh roses or rose petals
Ice cubes or crushed ice
1. In the center of a large pot (the speckled blue canning pots are ideal) with an inverted lid (a rounded lid), place a fireplace brick. On top of the brick place the bowl. Put the roses in the pot; add enough flowers to reach the top of the brick. Pour in just enough water to cover the roses. The water should be just above the top of the brick.
2. Place the lid upside down on the pot. Turn on the stove and bring the water to a rolling boil, then lower heat to a slow steady simmer. As soon as the water begins to boil, toss two or three trays of ice cubes (or a bag of ice) on top of the lid.
3. You’ve now created a home still! As the water boils the steam rises, hits the top of the cold lid, and condenses. As it condenses it flows to the center of the lid and drops into the bowl. Every 20 minutes, quickly lift the lid and take out a tablespoon or two of the rose water. It’s time to stop when you have between a pint and a quart of water that smells and tastes strongly like roses.
Making Flower-Infused Syrup:
1 cup water (or rosewater)
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 cup edible flower petals (whole or crushed)
In a saucepan over medium heat, add the water or rosewater, sugar, and edible flower petals; bring to a boil and let boil for approximately 10 minutes or until thickened into syrup. Remove from heat.
Strain through cheesecloth into a clean glass jar.
Keeps up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Can be added to sparkling water or champagne for a delicious beverage. Or, it may be poured over fruit, pound cake or pancakes.
Makes about 2 to 3 cups syrup.
Garnishing Cheeses with Edible Flowers
The cheese can be prepared 24 hours in advance of serving. Use flat chunks of cheese, with edible rinds, in a variety of shapes. (Cheddar, Jack, Brie, or Camembert, in round, wedge, or square shapes)
Edible flowers or herbs
2 cups dry white wine
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
Lay the flowers and herbs flat on top of the cheese in the presentation that you want to display.
Then remove the flowers and herbs, lay them aside in the pattern you want to display them.
In the medium size saucepan over medium heat, combine the white wine and gelatin. Stir until gelatin is completely dissolved and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and put the saucepan in a larger container filled with ice. Keep stirring as it thickens, NOTE: Stir slowly so you don’t create bubbles. (If it gets too thick, you can reheat and repeat.)
Place the cheese in a dish to catch the drippings from your glaze.
Spoon the glaze over the cheese and spread evenly. After a few minutes it will become tacky to the touch, then you can “paste” on your flowers in the design pattern you planned.
Refrigerate about 15 minutes; then remove from refrigerator and spoon more glaze over the flowers.
NOTE: Make as many layers of glaze as necessary to cover your decorations – can be three layers for a thick design. If the glaze thickens up too much, just reheat and replace in ice.
Serve with crackers.