By Jill Brooke
Who says fabulous has to be complicated? Not us at Flower Power. One little flower can update not only a table setting but sprinkle a dash of pizazz to any dish. Which is why edible flowers can be an inventive hostess’ tour de force.
The Romans used violets and roses for salads, pretty garnishes and to decorate cakes. European, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures added flowers to beverages and cocktails for flavorings. Our ancestors also mixed them with butter or fruit preserves and added florals to marinades and salad dressings. And even our favorite flower-loving monarch -Queen Victoria – incorporated them into palace cuisine.
It’s no secret that flowers have medicinal properties. Roses are considered rich in antioxidants. Lavender calms the nervous system and is an aid to nausea. But even without that added health perk, using flowers in cuisine is fun. Edible flowers are also visually pleasing, offering the opportunity to make anything more special. Use them in desserts, salads and even sauces.
A recent trend has people popping flowers into ice cube trays and ice pops. Two-second effort producing lasting results. Poof. An ice cube becomes eye candy.
In fact, a boring predictable salad suddenly becomes more interesting with the sprinkling of some vibrant yellow or purple blooms. I have literally taken greens, some dried cranberries or raspberries, sprinkles of goat cheese and added a few yellow and purple pansies – organic of course without pesticides – and voila – it turned drab into dynamic.
Other times when I didn’t have time to bake, I have bought cupcakes or cookies at the supermarket. Just beat an egg white and use it as a culinary glue. I take a brush, dip it into the egg white, and put it on the flower. Voila. Or you can press a pansy into the cupcake icing if you have icing. It updates the overall look with visual excitement.
Or sugarcoat roses and other flowers for garnish. After you use the egg wash, just add confectioners sugar. It’s basically superfine sugar that is made for bakers and found in any supermarket.
Or find your Monet and get some food coloring, a watercolor brush and paint a flower, as chef Angela Perkins did so beautifully.
I’ve even added them to update a rice paper roll with herbs, shaved carrots and edible flowers. Creates such a wow factor.
Or add them as flourishes to any hors d’ oeuvres presentation.
Here’s a quick guide courtesy of Flower Power.
1) Make sure the flowers are from organic farms so pesticides are not used. Preferably grown for consumption. The flowers in your supermarket are not organic.
2) For best flavor as well as visual optimization, pick them early in the morning – if not bought online. Wilted and faded flowers and unopened buds – can be more bitter. Here are some online service for edible flowers – Melissa’s Assorted Edible Flowers is a good bet on amazon.com or go to Gourmet Sweet Botanicals. Other places recommended are The Chef’s Garden or Marx Foods.
3) When cooking with or serving edible flowers, clean them by washing them gently in a large bowl of cold water and letting them air dry on a paper towel. Use them immediately or store them in the refrigerator for up to a week in an airtight container lined with a damp paper towel
4) Most flowers are only safe to eat in small amounts. What’s Cooking America reports that Johnny-jump-ups contain saponins while daylily flowers can be a diuretic. Do your homework and identify what you are eating. Make sure the flowers are clean by washing them and letting them air dry on a paper towel before using. Also, remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. or cooking. If you see wilting flower petals, remove them.
Never forget that food is visual. So have fun with flowers!