Thursday, 24 September 2015

Flower power - the appeal of edible blooms

poppy liqueur

This Sunday's Edible Flower Secret Garden Club went very well. We are also thrilled to now have a monthly column in Our first column was on edible flowers. 
This was the menu:
Coqueliquot liqueur with champagne (pictured above)
Squash flower soup with home grown ancho peppers
Bread with marigold flowers and pumpkin seeds
Mint and borage yoghurt dip
Purple and pink potato salad with herb flowers
Salad with nasturtiums
Fresh floral fettucini with butter and sage

purple pink potato salad with herb flowers
Purple and pink potato salad with herb flowers, made with homegrown Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy heritage potatoes.

Edible flowers will make your dishes look spectacular and add new flavours to your food - and all for very little outlay. Ideally you would be able to step outside into your garden to pick your homegrown edible flowers. But if this isn't possible or your garden or patio doesn't give you enough, you can source flowers for eating by other means:
  • Some supermarkets, notably Waitrose, sell edible flowers in their larger stores. Chegworth valley is also another supplier.
  • Online at sites such as Greens of Devon, and Maddocks Farm Organics. Delivery can often be made the next day.
  • In a florist only if you can guarantee that the flowers are organic. Otherwise they may have been sprayed or otherwise terraced with chemicals.
  • By foraging, for a wildflower feast. 
Selecting edible flowers
Be aware, though, that not all flowers are edible and some are very toxic. So you do need to be discriminating when it comes to picking flowers to eat. If you follow the same guidelines as you would when foraging for mushrooms you should be OK:
  • Be 100% certain that you have identified the flower correctly.
  • Only pick flowers in good condition 
  • Do not take all the flowers from a single location - and do not uproot whole plants
  • Know the provenance of your flowers. This means being sure that the plants have not been sprayed, whether with weed killer, animal urine, or preservatives (in florists, for example). Or knowing that they have not been contaminated, eg, with car exhaust fumes. By the side of a busy road is not a good place to look for edible flowers.
Pick flowers in mid morning if possible: late enough for the dew to have evaporated, early enough that sun has not started to dry out the petals.

Generally speaking, remove green sepals, stems and calyxes. Cut out stamens and therefore the pollen if you tend towards hay fever.

marigold pumpkin seed bread
Bread with marigold flowers and pumpkin seeds.

flower pasta
Adding flowers to the pasta while rolling out the dough.
Using edible flowers
Petals and smaller whole flowers can be scattered in their natural state over a variety of dishes - salads, desserts, over soups or vegetables. However flowers have traditionally been used in a number of other ways as well:
  • Suspended in ice cubes to make stunning addition to cocktails and soft drinks. Fill the compartments of an ice cube tray half full with water. Lay a flower, or petals on the surface of each. Dunk each petal with your finger to ensure they are covered with water - they will yen float to the top again. Freeze. Once frozen, top up each tray with water and freeze again. This ensures that your flowers are suspended in the middle of the ice cube rather than floating to the top. This is a classic way to use borage flowers, also good for violas, pinks, primroses. Instructions to make a floral ice bowl are in Supper Club; recipes and notes from the underground restaurant by Kerstin Rodgers.
  • Floral sugars – take a few handfuls of flowers. Remove stems but you needn't be over fussy about sepals and calyxes. Pick over to ensure they are clean and put into a clean jar. Cover with caster sugar, anywhere from 3x to 10x the weight of the flowers. Leave somewhere cool, and dark for a month and then sieve out the flowers. Recipe for Lilac sugar here.
  • Jellies – floral jellies have a wonderful aromatic flavour. Use a recipe for apple jelly (there are good ones on Cottage Smallholder and David Lebovitz, for example) for the base flavour and to give the jelly enough pectin to set. Add the flowers/petals to the apples when boiling them up for their juice. Some petals can be added to the jelly for decorative effect once it has reached setting point and before it is decanted into jars. Floral jelly recipes are in MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party book.
  • Floral butters work beautifully for herb flowers in particular, especially fennel, rosemary or basil. Pick a good handful of the tiny flowers and ensure they are clean. Add to softened butter and mash gently with a fork. Chill in the fridge until the butter is firm enough to be moulded between two boards or rolled into a cylindrical shape. Chill again. To use, slice off a round of the butter from the cylinder. Calendula and tagetes (marigolds) also make a lovely floral butter. Recipes for floral butters are in Supper Club; recipes and notes from the underground restaurant by Kerstin Rodgers
  • Crystallised petals – a classic treatment for rose petals, also good with primroses and violets. You will need a bowl of egg white and caster sugar, either in a bowl or a dredger. Give the egg white a brief whisking just until it's foamy - this is to ensure you don't have any lumps or globules. Take a fine soft paintbrush and gently paint each petal with the egg white. Dredge with the sugar, or dust lightly with the sugar in the bowl. Lay each petal in piece of grease proof paper and dry overnight in the airing cupboard. Use within a couple of days. Instructions on how to do this are in Supper Club; recipes and notes from the underground restaurant by Kerstin Rodgers
  • Floral teas, or tisanes: camomile is the traditional flavour here, but you can make restorative and uplifting tisanes from lavender, bergamot, lemon verbena and many other flowers. Simply take a handful of your chosen flowers and place in a glass jug or teapot. Pour over hot water (not boiling) and leave to steep for 3-6 minutes. Strain into a cup. Recipes for herbal teas are in MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party book.
  • Syrups, oils, and vinegars. Floral vinegar is amazing in salad dressing. Herb flowers are especially suitable for both oil and vinegar. Pack flowers into a measuring jug and decant into a clean jar. Pour over the same volume of white wine vinegar (ie, if your flowers reached the 500ml mark in the measuring jug, add 500ml of vinegar) and a little sugar to taste. Cover the jar and leave in a warm sunny place for 2-3 weeks. Then strain into a sterilised jar. Sweeter flowers, such as pinks, roses, lavender (again), lemon verbena or scented leaf pelargonium make beautiful syrups for drizzling over ice cream, over pancakes, over sponge cakes. Dissolve sugar in water (use equivalent amounts, eg for 300g sugar, add 300ml water), bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a clean jar when still warm. Add a handful of flowers, and push down into the syrup to make sure they are covered. Put the lid on the jar and leave until cold. Strain into another clean jar or bottle.
  • Floral smoothies: add a few petals from your chosen flowers to the smoothie mix - great in lassis or milkshakes as well. Mint, roses, or bergamot are especially good for these.
  • Fruit jellies can be lifted to a higher plane with the addition of a layer of flowers or even whole blooms set into the middle of the jelly. Visually stunning.
  • Flower waters- see here in our blog post on making rose water.
borage flower and mint flower tzaziki
Mint and borage flower yogurt dip.
For a recipe on how to make fresh floral lasagne or fettucini go to my post on .

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