A BOUQUET OF EDIBLE FLOWERS
Beauty and fragrance have always affected the human senses. Flowers, with a combination of qualities, have the power to hypnotize with color, texture, and scent. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before humans decided it was necessary to also taste them. Curiosity and creativity ran rampant in our ancestors and in little time flowers became part of the vast food exploration of many cultures. While certain medicinal benefits abound, flowers as food are mostly used around the world today to enhance the visual appeal of finished plates. For most home cooks, the time and energy needed to seek out edible flowers may seem overwhelming. However, a secret garden of floral fare may be closer than you think. Go hunting in your own backyard--you may be surprised at the profusion of floral edibles adding color to the garden.
Gorgeous purple chive blossoms, flowering chamomile with their miniature daisy like heads, charming Johnny-Jump-Ups & pansies, princess flowers (the name says it all--petite and lovely), culinary lavender (other varieties taste soapy), white, pink & purple alyssum, borage blossoms, orange & yellow micro marigold, flowering basil & thyme, calamint, and lilac blossoms are only a few of the commonly grown flowers in patio pots, kitchen gardens, and imbedded into landscaping as ground cover or edging perennials.
For those green thumb vegetable gardeners, larger zucchini blossoms, cucumber flowers (so many blossoms that do not become fruit they may as well be put to use as edible plate art), strawberry florets, and sweet tasting English pea flowers, shoots and vines are show stopping palate pleasers with their climbing curling tendrils and soft pinky cream flowers. Nearly any finished plate rises to the level of restaurant fare when eye catching flowers poke their heads from among a recipe's ingredients. Be adventurous--harvest some zucchini blossoms, stuff them with Italian or goat cheeses, and bake for just a few minutes. One bite and the garden may become your personal favorite market in which to shop for tonight's supper.
The ritual pouring of liquids for entertainment and celebration provides the perfect palette for showcasing the subtle beauty of a single edible flower. When used to enhance beverages, flowers heighten the experience of social drinking. Frozen into ice cubes, clipped to the rim, or floating in liquid, a single stem or blossom creates a visual sensation.
Near the summer solstice, when the perennial garden is in full bloom and the annuals are spilling out of pots, it is prime time to forage for floral edibles. A tiny blossom has the power to turn a summer cold soup into a fireworks display worthy of an Independence Day celebration, and a simple picnic spread into edible art.
Candied flowers are surprising sweet and a baker's secret weapon. On Mother's Day, cakes decorated with dried sugar pansies or rose petals say, "I Love You Mom." Cupcakes or cookies topped with a sweet floral surprise add a welcomed crunch when juxtaposed with a spongy texture or creamy frosting. A simple whisk of 1 egg white and a 1/2 teaspoon of water followed with a sprinkling of superfine sugar transforms rose petals, Johnny-Jump-Ups, and Pansies into confections worthy of birthdays and anniversaries. Using tweezers, gently pick off the petal or flower and lightly brush both sides to coat the flower with the egg wash. Lightly dust the petal with the sugar, lay in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and let dry for 8 hours. Placed in an airtight container these glorious old-fashioned treats will last at least a week.
While edible, mums, orchids, and geraniums have a bitter taste and roses an unusual texture, they should be used sparingly, if at all. Why include something on a plate that may be confusing or possibly detract from the taste? Instead, float them in punch bowls, serve them as cocktail garnishes, or on the edges of plates to add color and texture to the table.
A treasure trove of color, texture, and taste is waiting to be discovered just outside the doors. Do explore nature's floral gifts and exploit their eating potential--flowers on the dinner plate add a bit of magic to the tablescape.