One of my most indelible sensory memories has been the taste of homemade lavender ice cream. It was twenty years ago but I still can remember the delicate flavor of the flower mixed in the cold, smooth, sweet cream. The single scoop of ice cream had an ever so slight tinge of a lavender hue within the off-white; subtle and beautiful. I asked the chef at the original, old Majestic Inn in Anacortes, Washington for the recipe but he refused. “It was my mother’s,” he said, “from the old country.” I have never found lavender ice cream since which even brushes against the splendor of that one, but I did find a close second – ginger ice cream from Vermont’s Strafford Organic Creamery.
Fortunately, you can make your own lavender ice cream, as well as a myriad of other gorgeous recipes made from edible flowers and plants. We all know the dreaded burdock but the young spring root dug up in spring and sautéed in olive oil rivals any of our common root vegetables. Even cattails can be eaten; the shoot before it flowers tastes similar to cucumbers and zucchini. Curly dock leaves can be mixed raw in salads or cooked with pork as you would with mustard or turnip. But how about a wild violet salad?
The queen of nature’s parade in all her colorful fashion is the edible flower. She will dress up any meal or party in fancy dress as well as delight the palate. For an hors d’oeuvre try a dip made with honey, yogurt, lemon and orange zest for begonia blossoms. The crisp texture, sweet citrus flavor and the splashy colors taste sublime and make a lovely center piece for the table. Or a tulip and endive appetizer arranged on a bed of bib lettuce.
In Vermont, we have plenty of zucchini flowers. Most kinds of squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and grated Asiago cheese make for another spectacular appetizer. Simply take out the pistil of the rinsed flower and stuff it with cheese. Using butter or olive oil in a fry pan, cook up some tomatoes and onions until soft, then gently lay the squash blossoms in the sauce and cook for a few minutes. You can also add toasted almonds or pine nuts, and fresh basil and parsley. Italians often lightly batter and fry the blossoms. Garnish with nasturtium flowers for another lovely center piece.
Edible flowers can be steeped in oil or used to create a vinegar. Just a few of the many flower-infused vinegars are: nasturtium and garlic chive flowers; lavender flowers and blueberries; loveage and oregano flowers; hibiscus; and even calendula combined with lemon thyme flowers, lemon basil flowers, and lemon zest. The recipe for these vinegars is simple and easy. Fill a glass jar with 2 parts white vinegar (preferably organic) and 1 part flower. Keep in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks and then strain. The flower-infused vinegar and oil will keep up to 6 months. Lavender and rose petal vinegar can be used for softening the skin in bathwater or making hair soft and shiny as a hair rinse. Mixed with distilled water, these vinegars also are wonderful facial tonics, restoring the acid balance to the skin after washing.
Flower butters can be savory or sweet depending on the flower. Nasturtiums and chive blossoms chopped and mixed in butter make for a savory experience. Melted on a crisp baguette or over vegetables, fish or poultry, the result is simply scrumptious. Sweet butters can be made with lavender, roses, violets, and pineapple sage flowers. These make for a great mystery filling between layers of sponge or pound cake.
Baby roses, Johnny-jump-ups, violets, scented geraniums, orange blossoms (heavenly), edible pea blossoms (not sweet peas which are poisonous) and borage are great for candying. Candied flowers can be used to decorate cakes, cookies, ice cream and hors d’oeuvres. Weddings, baby showers and any party will dress up dramatically by adding candied flowers. Candied flowers are crystallized using egg white and sugar (as a preservative).
Remember the classic tea sandwiches with cucumber and cream cheese from the 50’s? Try making them with watercress, blue violets and white watercress blossoms. Not only are the sandwiches pretty, the new flavors add a spicy taste and smell. Salads with nasturtium and borage blossoms are colorful and delicious. Try making cookies with rose-scented geranium jelly or tea cakes with anise hyssop and lemon.
Vermont’s prolific daylily is also edible. If harvested just as the flower pod has begun to open, the flower has a sweet flavor and a crisp texture, wonderful in salads. You can make daylily fritters by frying a creamy mixed batter in hot oil. Even better is pan-searing the lilies in pre-heated coconut oil. Serve the fried lilies with butter, preserves, and cinnamon or as a savory side dish.
Lavender is easy to grow in Vermont and can be used in so many recipes. Lavender sugar and lavender salt are simple to make. For the sugar, add ½ cup lavender flowers to 2 cups superfine sugar. For the salt, add 4 tbsp. dried lavender flowers and 1 cup fine salt. The salt is great for sprinkling on asparagus and wilted spinach salad. There’s also lavender goat cheese spread, lavender roasted beets as well as lavender shortbread, cookies and scones.
And rose petals! Harbor a hint of the Middle East in your food. Rose petal syrup can be made from 2 cups of rose petals and 2/3 cup sugar. Rose petal sorbet calls for 1 cup of the rose petal syrup, 1 bottle of Gewürtzraminer grape juice, 4 large rose blossoms and 1 egg white. All these recipes can be found online and are easy, not to mention beautiful and tasty. How about stir-fried beef with anise hyssop? Try your salmon grilled ever so lightly on both sides, sprinkle with rosemary blossoms in bloom and finely chopped rosemary and lemon wedges. Served on a large white platter, this meal will be an art piece.
In fact, using edible flowers in food is a work of art. Your food becomes a Mardi Gras of color and flavor. You can mix and arrange the delicate colors to your hearts content. The ways these flowers can be used are only limited by your imagination. Try experimenting, using them in drinks, jellies, salads, soups, syrups and main dishes. Vermont edible flowers are plentiful. Enjoy the bounty. And don’t forget our beloved dandelion, highly medicinal and yummy. There are countless ways to use them. Enjoy!
Sonya’s Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
Rinse blossoms lightly, snap off the stems and stuff with ricotta cheese. Prepare a light tomato sauce – melt tomatoes with basil and some salt (no onions or garlic). Lay blossoms in sauce for 3 minutes. Turn over for another 3 minutes. The blossoms & cheese will melt into sauce.
To fry the blossoms: Make a water and flour mixture. Insert an anchovy and a piece of hard cheese, such as Fontina, into each blossom. KEEP the stems. Dip blossoms into the mixture and then dip into boiling oil for a few moments. Let cool for a minute. Serve, using the stems as a handle.
Dian Parker is a freelance writer for a number of New England publications, including Art New England, the White River Herald, OpEd News, and many others. She is the gallery director for White River Gallery in Vermont and an oil painter. Parker has written about porcupines, old growth trees, architecture, artists, inventors, and immortality. She lives in the backwoods of Vermont at 1800 feet; kayaking, gardening, and recently completing a short story collection. Photo by the author of flowers from her garden.
View her work at the links below:
Porcupine Courtship: A Raucous Affair
Stones in Translation