Forget the icing on your next batch of sugar cookies or brownies. Instead, go out to the garden and pick some pansies, some geraniums and perhaps a few marigolds and put them on for decoration instead of the usual sugary confection.
For the chef, this takes courage. For the diner, it takes a leap of faith because picking flowers just so you can put them on your cake and then to eat them too, is new.
“For some people picking a gorgeous flower is hard because people don’t want to take it off the stem. It’s so beautiful if used to adorn a plate, but then if it’s so beautiful, why would you eat it,” said Jim Hole of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens.
Hole remembers people coming to the family’s market garden for zucchini and then picking the flowers instead.
“They battered them and deep-fried them,” said Hole.
I’ve done a similar thing myself. I use a store-bought light batter mix, combined dry with a little Parmesan cheese, basil, salt and pepper to coat the flowers and zucchini slices. Instead of deep frying, I cook them in a frying pan with a few tablespoons of oil until they are crispy.
Tam Andersen of Prairie Gardens and Greenhouses is a more adventurous eater. Recently, she happily walked through her greenhouse picking flowers and inviting me to taste pansies, marigolds, geraniums, begonias, fuchsia and alyssum.
“Not all flowers are edible. You have to do a lot of research, but the most common edible flowers are marigolds, pansies and begonias,” she said.
Pansies may be your first introduction to flower eating. They have a bland taste; much like lettuce but the texture is softer. What pansies have over lettuce is colour and fragrance. A smiling-faced pansy on your cookie seems like a gift. It’s a surprise to the palette because just before you take a bite, you smell the flower’s perfume.
Fuchsia is stronger, and acidic. Bite into one and it’s like tasting a cross between lemon and vinegar.
“Fuchsia works well on salad or dessert. Put it on a sorbet for a touch of elegance,” Andersen said.
Flowers such as marigolds and cornflowers add pizzazz to salads, she said.
Lavender is Christina Hart’s favourite flower. Formerly a St. Albert resident, Hart was home to visit her mother Irene Hill, who is a long-time member of the St. Albert Floral Arts Guild. A favourite of both mother and daughter is lavender.
“If you like the perfume of English or French lavender, you will like it in salad, in upside-down cake and especially in sangria,” Hart said.
Andersen agreed, saying that shortbread gets kicked up a notch if you chop lavender flowers and add them to the dough before cutting and baking. Sprinkle lavender with fruit on the bottom of a cake pan before you add the batter and when baked, turn it upside down to show off the herb and the fruit.
Try these blooming dishes:
Tam Andersen’s Salad
Mizuna (Oriental mustard greens)
Red oak leaf lettuce
Lambs’ quarters weed
Marigold and cornflower petals pulled apart
Fuchsia blossoms, whole
Put the begonias in a glass jar and cover with purple chive flowers, a tablespoon of honey and white-wine vinegar. Let steep for a few hours or up to a week and add to oil to make vinaigrette for the salad.
Christina Hart’s Lavender Sangria
cup Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
3 Tbsp. liquid honey
4 tsp. chopped fresh lavender flowers
1 bottle Riesling or other white wine
cup each raspberries, strawberries and sliced peaches
Heat the liqueur in the microwave or on the stovetop until steaming but not boiling. Stir in the honey until dissolved. Add the lavender, cover and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a tall glass pitcher.
Add the wine and fruit. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Serve in chilled glasses over ice. Makes six servings.