PS: Fast forward to January 2014:
A local publisher would like to republish my sweet book on Edible Flowers.I am thrilled. Yes, I did go out this morning and picked the last of my orange blossoms. About 3 cups of petals remained, just enough to make about 1/2 cup of exquisite jam. Stay tuned!
Grazing around my Garden
Abundant winter rains did much to send my orange, lemon, and blood orange trees into a “bloomin’ ” frenzy. Let’s hope this is an indication of next year’s harvest.
I was tempted to pick the seven pounds of fresh orange blossoms necessary to concoct the exquisitely scented orange blossom jam that Morocco’s Sephardic cooks prepare in time for La Mimouna, the celebration held on the last evening of Passover. (The recipe appears in The Scent of Orange Blossoms: Sephardic Cuisine from Morocco, now out of print.) I decided against making jam when I realized that my refrigerator already holds two dozen jars of blood orange jelly.
So I’ll just inhale the citrus blossoms’ aroma and wait for the next batch of fruit.
At the same time, a sunny patch of backyard is slowly being colonized by Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). Unlike orange blossoms, theirs isn’t a scent that intoxicates. Rather, the star shaped flower smells and tastes like fresh garlic. I love to toss a few mauve blossoms in a salad, or sprinkle them over a bowl of soup.
My rosemary bush is also coming out of the winter doldrums. I have been known to hug my rosemary just for the pleasure of it! And I encourage our dog to look for lizards among its lower limbs, so I can run my hand through her rosemary-scented coat! Rosemary’s blossoms (Rosmarinus officinalis) are delightful edibles: The sky-blue blossoms have a more delicate flavor than the plant’s slender leaves.
Just budding is my Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla syn. Lippia citriodora), for making my favorite herb tea. An infusion of luisa, as lemon verbena is called in Arabic, is said to act as a soporific if taken before bedtime.
Blossoms of calendula, cilantro, and lavender will hold me over until summer, when I can graze on plethora of edible flowers, from basil and arugula, to roses, begonias, and borage.
If you happen to frequent the farmer’s market in Vista (CA) on Saturday mornings, stop by my friend Suilin Robinson’s stand, a lovely and knowledgeable grower who grows a variety of edible flowers.
Here is recipe to get you started on cooking with edible flowers. A list of common edible flowers follows the recipe.
Garden Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Society Garlic Flowers
(courtesy of Andrea Peterson of Peterson Specialty Produce)
4 cups baby greens, washed and dried
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup mixed flowers: calendula petals, or viola, borage, chive, or arugula blossoms
1/2 cup chopped prunes
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 8-ounce log goat cheese
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup Society Garlic flowers
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, water, sugar, salt, and pepper.
Combine baby greens and edible flowers in a large bowl. Toss greens lightly with dressing. Mound equal amounts on four salad plates. Top with prunes and pine nuts. Refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Slice goat cheese into 4 equal parts. Lightly brush each slice on both sides with olive oil and dredge with breadcrumbs. Place on a non-stick baking sheet, and bake 5 minutes, until just softened. While still warm, place cheese on the prepared greens and garnish with garlic flowers.
From Edible Flowers: A Kitchen Companion by Kitty Morse. (Ten Speed Press, 1994)
NOTE: MY BOOK IS OUT OF PRINT, THOUGH
I HAVE A HANDFUL IN MY POSSESSION. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ORDER A SIGNED COPY for Easter or for Mother’s Day, SEND ME AN E-MAIL at [email protected]
Only edible flowers grown without pesticides are suitable for eating, and even then, should only be consumed in moderate amounts. When in doubt, consult a horticultural specialist, a specialized nursery or an encyclopedia of edible plants.
Arugula (Eruca sativa.) Also roquette or rocket. Add mustardy tasting leaf to salad mixes. Use milder-flavored blossoms as garnish.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Exists in dozens of varieties. Sprinkle blend with soups, egg dishes or pasta.
Begonia (Begonia cultivars): Delicate crunchy petals have pronounced citrusy flavor. Use as garnish, in tea sandwiches, or in salad mix.
Borage (Borago officinalis): Blossoms have cool, cucumber taste. Candy or use as garnish.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) a.k.a. pot marigold, known for centuries for its medicinal properties. Petals add a yellow tint to soups, spreads or scrambled eggs.
Carnation: (Dianthus caryophyllus). Steep in wine, candy, or use as cake decoration. Remove petals from calyx and snip off bitter white base before using.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Member of Daisy family, good raw or steamed. Also distilled into wine.
A favorite of mine! Day-lily (Hemerocallis). Raw petals have distinct crispiness. Pickle or stir-fry fresh buds. In China, dried buds called “golden needles” are used to flavor soups and stews.
Dianthus: Miniature member of carnation family with light nutmeg scent. Petals add color to salads or aspics.
Dill (Anethum graveolens.) Use herb and fresh blossoms to season hot or cold soups, seafood, dressings or dips. Seeds reserved mainly for pickling or baking.
Lavender, English (Lavandula officinalis.) Picked at their prime and stripped from stems, diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans, or sorbets. Dried lavender blossoms enter into perfumes and pot pourris.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus): From brilliant yellow to orange in color, nasturtiums rank among most common edible flowers. Leaves add peppery tang to salads, and pickled seed pods are less expensvive substitute for capers.
Rose (Rosa species): Petals used in syrups and jellies, perfumed butters and sweet spreads. Candy miniature roses whole, or use to decorate elegant desserts. Large petals often candied individually.
Rosemary (Rosmarnus officinalis): Fresh or dried herb and blossoms enhance flavor of Mediterranean dishes. Use with meats, seafoods, sorbets or dressings.
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) also called Mexican saffron: Dried flowers often passed off as “real” Spanish saffron (but lack characteristic saffron aroma.) Used as a natural dye and food coloring, and to make cooking oil.
Zucchini (Cucurbitaceae): Individual flowers stuffed or deep-fried. Left whole, blossoms are lovely additions to frittatas or quiches.
Suilin Robinson and her husband Whitney, owners of Whole Earth Acre Nursery in Vista, CA, are experts in edible flowers. E-mail [email protected] if you have questions.