Not only lovely to look at, flowers can also be delicious to eat.
Among the most wonderful additions to your summer recipes can be edible flowers. There are so many to choose from it's hard to know where to start.
Let's begin with the flowers from the culinary herbs. All flowers from culinary herbs have the same flavor as the plant they come from. For example, chive blossoms have a mild onion flavor, mint flowers carry the same aromatic and flavorful quality the leaves do, and oregano flowers, when chopped into a pasta salad, make a beautiful and delicious presentation. So don't toss them out—toss them into a favorite recipe. It is important to remember to use only flowers that have not been sprayed with pesticides. And NEVER use flowers from a florist for eating. They are often treated with chemicals. Edible flowers are very perishable and should be used as soon as possible after picking. They can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Some edible flowers seem to be designed specifically for growing in our area. My favorite is the nasturtium. They are a southwest gardener's dream. Nasturtiums love full, hot sun and dry, infertile soil. They bloom until first frost and they are tasty. Nasturtiums have a crisp, peppery flavor and a high concentration of vitamin C. What more can you ask from a plant?
You can sow nasturtium seed as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring and the danger of frost has passed, right up until late June. Nick the seeds with a sharp knife and soak them in water overnight to insure better germination. Plant the seeds about one-half inch deep and three inches apart. Once they germinate, thin them to nine inches apart. This is the time they will require watering every day until the plant is established, which takes about two weeks. Be sure you've planted them in full sun and do not fertilize them. Fertilizing will cause the plant to produce an abundance of leaves and few flowers.
Nasturtiums fall into two categories, bush and vine. The bush varieties grow to about one to two feet in height and climbers can go up to 12 feet and will need to be trellised.
Alaska Variegated—Green-and-white mottled leaves; yellow, red, pink and orange flowers.
Double Dwarf Jewel Mix—Dark-green round leaves with double and semi-double blooms in bright yellow, orange and red.
Cream Jewels—Bright-green round leaves with two-inch cream-colored blooms; an abundant bloomer that's great for edging.
Peach Melba—A more compact plant with bright yellow blossoms that have a maroon center.
Mahogany—Dark-green leaves with large, deep-mahogany blooms; profuse bloomer.
Vesuvius—Dark blue-green leaves with brilliant coral blooms.
Cherry Blossom—One of the old varieties; large light-green leaves and cherry-pink blooms.
These plants are wonderful for fences and trellises.
Fordhook Mix—Grows to a height of about six feet; cream, yellow and orange blossoms blotched with darker centers.
Moonlight—A profuse bloomer of large, buttery-yellow flowers; climbs in excess of seven feet.
Double Gleam Mixed—A classic variety that grows in excess of 10 feet and is covered in pastel blooms.
Try substituting nasturtium leaves for lettuce on your favorite sandwich, chop the leaves into salads and toss in the flowers. Or use the larger leaves as appetizers by spreading a softened cheese on the leaf, adding a slice of sweet pepper and thinly sliced ham; roll it up and tie it with a nasturtium stem and flower.
Some other varieties of edible flowers you may wish to try are:
Borage—Bright purple star-like flowers that taste exactly like cucumbers.
Daylilies—Chop into salad or infuse into honey.
Squash Blossoms—Stuff with softened cheeses and saute in olive oil; can also be batter fried.
Tulips—Stuff with fruit salad.
Violets and Pansies—Candy them for garnish on cakes and pastries.
Dianthus (garden pinks)—Wonderful in salads.
Calendula (pot marigold)—Warm, spicy, flavorful; great in stir-fry and egg dishes.
Peonies—Peony water was used for drinking in the middle ages—Henry VIII soaked his feet in it (I am assuming it wasn't used for drinking after that); petals are great for floating in punches and lemonades.
Here are two simple recipes for you to try:
Rose Petal Sugar
This sugar can be used to flavor teas, meringues and in baking.
1 quart jar with lid
Red rose petals
Make sure the jar is clean and dry. You will want to use red rose petals from a fragrant rose that has not been sprayed or treated with chemicals. Place one inch of sugar in the jar and layer the rose petals and sugar until the jar is full. Cap and place in an area away from direct sun for two weeks. The sugar will absorb the color and flavor of the roses. Remove petals and store as you would regular sugar. What a treat for teas!
Parmesan Squash Blossom Saute
This recipe is so good I can never decide whether to serve it as an appetizer or side dish.
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp each finely chopped fresh parsley and chives
1/2 cup olive oil
30-35 squash blossoms
Gently rinse blossoms and remove pistils. Pat dry between paper towels. Heat oil in skillet or saute pan. Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl except squash blossoms. Add a little milk if the batter is too thick. Evenly coat blossoms and saute until golden brown, turning occasionally. Serves 4.
Alice Pauser is the owner of The Kitchen Gardener in Silver City; you can visit her Web site at www.thekitchengardener.biz.
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