Like the bees and the butterflies, we have been bonkers about eye-catching, fragrant summer blooms for millenia. And as Nikki Bawn finds, they make for extra special recipes too.
Who doesn’t love fresh cut flowers for vases, crystallised blossoms for cakes and dried petals for pot-pourri or tea? Somewhere along the line though, many have forgotten that jaw-dropping colours and intoxicating perfumes are not the only things our flowery friends have to offer.
Since time began, cultures across the world have seen flowers as edible must-haves, and no meal being complete without them. Now though, taste and nutrition are lesser known attributes of our wild and cultivated floral beauties.
Most of us wouldn’t die of shock to see a nasturtium or two served in our salads, or, the odd sugared violet on our cakes and sweet treats, but did you know that flowers are making a comeback as a key ingredient and even taking a starring role on many mains menus?
It’s not surprising really when you discover how vast and varied the list of edible flowers is. There are so many colours, shapes, sizes and flavours that can make most dishes, savoury or sweet, beautifully delicious and nutritious too. From apple and citrus flavours to spicy peppery tastes, they are surprisingly yummy and quite a few have been found to be rich in folic acid, riboflavin, pyroxidine, niacin, and vitamins E and C.
You don’t need to frequent garden centres or be a botanical expert to get your hands on some of the most versatile flowery flavour bombs either. Just have a wander around the garden and see if you can spot a few of the common varieties like pot marigolds (calendula), roses, daisies, hibiscus, sunflowers, snapdragons, day lilies, dahlias, borage and even geraniums. So long as you’ve checked their identity and they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals or exposed to pet toileting activities – you can near enough eat the lot!
Most herbs and vegetable flowers can also be eaten, but there are some confusing exceptions. For instance, sweet pea flowers are toxic but English pea vines aren’t – so always double check before you start rustling up a flowery culinary creation.
One of my favourite dishes which is very popular in Italy, is baked courgette flowers, stuffed with a variety of fillings from ricotta to risotto. They look fantastic on any dinner table either as a starter or a main and add a real sense of occasion to most dining activities.
As an alternative to courgette flowers, you could stuff other large savoury blooms like nasturtiums – the choices are limited only by how creative or imaginative you want to be. I love showering my dishes in calendula petals – also known as ‘poor man’s saffron’. These bright orange beauties add joyful vibrance to any savoury dish.
The flowers will soon fade and be replaced by ripening fruit and berries. But before the pickling and preserving frenzy of autumn arrives in the Boggle Lane kitchen, I want to celebrate the last of the summer with some flower packed food.
So, banquet on your bouquets and the next time someone buys you a bunch, you might have a bit of a conundrum – do you grab a vase, or find yourself a plate?
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