Make your Menu Blossom
Edible flowers add a simple summery touch to any dish and a range of exotic flavours
The range of edible flowers is vast and their visual impact in a dish is memorable, however many chefs remain reluctant to make their menus blossom. Scan your stores and you’ll probably find you are already cooking with flowers. Many edible flowers are used daily in professional kitchens in one form or another; courgette blooms in savoury dishes, orange blossom and rosewater in desserts, crystallised rose petals in patisserie.
Edible flowers can complement dishes the same way that herbs and spices do, and it’s a natural way to bring a stunning finish to the food and drink you serve. It’s not a modern fad; eating flowers dates back thousands of years. Ancient Greeks put violet petals into their wine, the Ottomans used flowers to flavour Turkish delight, and even the Victorians scattered primroses and borage flowers onto their salads.
One high-profile chef to use flowers is René Redzepi of Noam in Copenhagen. His dishes include beetroot with thyme flowers, nasturtium flowers with snails, and broad beans with cucumber and mustard flowers. Closer to home, Simon Rogan of L’Enclume in the Lake District village of Cartmel, forages locally and owns a six acre farm that grows edible flowers, vegetables and fruit. In summer, his menu is scattered with references to sweet cicely, bergamot, hyssop and woodruff.
The important thing to remember is that not every flower is edible, some can be poisonous. Do sufficient research to ensure your customers’ safety or buy from one of the specialist UK growers like Derek Lewis. Derek owns Firstleaf, an edible flower farm based in Brynberian, Pembrokeshire. Established in 2004, Derek began growing micro salad leaves; as the business developed and demand increased, he has focused on growing a large range of edible flowers and decorative garnishes. The range includes dainty violas, vibrant orange calendula, blue cornflower, delicate rose pink geranium, elderflowers, primrose, dianthus and colorful mixed snapdragons with borage, nasturtiums and viola topping the popularity stakes with current chefs. His tip is to experiment to see what works on your menu and always make sure blossoms are fresh.
Edible flowers add colour and delicate flavours to your food and drinks menu. Grow your own and have the added delight of a garden of beautiful flowers throughout the summer months! Nasturtium blossoms have a peppery flavour similar to watercress and the tiny flowers of signet marigolds, such as Lemon Gem and Tangerine Gem, have a citrus taste. Most herb flowers are edible too, and offer a milder flavour of the herb. Flowers from soft annual herbs are best eaten raw, as cooking tends to kill their taste, whereas those from woody perennials, such as rosemary, are usually better when their flavour is allowed to infuse. Remember if you do grow your own do not use any insecticide, fungicide or herbicide in the garden and ensure the flowers are clean, fresh and free from pests and disease.
Mark Diacona, food writer and owner of Otter farm, an organic smallholding in Devon, shares a great tip for lovers of pricey saffron. “Marigold (Calendula officinalis) makes a fine substitute. Easy and prolific from seed, the petals of this ‘poor man’s saffron’ can be sprinkled over salads or made into a paste using half a handful of petals with two tablespoons of oil – add it to paella for the final simmer, in place of the usual saffron”
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