When my daughter turned one, my best friend offered to make a cake as a gift for her first birthday party. It was a tiered vanilla cake layered with raspberry filling adorned with a few fresh roses that she had cut fresh from her garden. Free of sugary embellishments, heavy frosting, or plastic cake toppers it was refreshingly uncharacteristic of what one would expect for a first birthday. The cake was charming and beautiful as it was delicious. It inspired me to experiment with using petals to garnish food or decorate desserts. I have found using a few flowers to garnish just about any dish adds a sense of enchantment and a bit of magic.
What to know: The idea of using flowers for culinary purposes dates back to antique eras. Edible flowers were popular during the Victorian times, and have been used in cultures throughout the world. As time would have it, using organic edible flowers and foliage is fashionable again among creative home cooks, garden-to-table chefs and foodies, and trendy cake makers. With a number of edible flowers that may be grown in a windowsill or in a pot, why not? Pansies, violets, and lavender for example are easy-care plants. These are a great stepping stone before venturing to flowers that require more TLC such as roses, or vegetables that bloom edible flowers.
With any flowers you wish to use there are a few things to know beforehand: make sure the flowers you are using are free of chemicals, pesticides or pollutants; not all flowers (or the whole flowers in some cases) may be consumed (get to know the edible varieties); and wash fresh cut flowers and use them soon after they have been cut. Err on the side of less is more, and sparingly use petals and buds.
How you can use edible flowers: Using culinary flowers is such an easy way to beautify foods and drinks. Every flower will have a unique fragrance and flavour, some with a floral perfume, others with a grassy flavour, some others with a bitter taste or even citrus notes. Pansies work well with cream cheeses, yogurts and appetizers, while violets pair well with small cakes and sugar cookies. Roses offer a floral scent to jellies, jams or syrups and are stunning cake toppers. Certain edible flowers of vegetables, such as squash or zucchini flowers, can be used for savoury dishes such as quiches or soups. And it is popular place to find dandelion or calendula (marigold) petals in salads.
If you are thinking of experimenting, here are a few ideas:
· Add a long stem of lavender to a tall glass of lemonade, a shorter stem to Champagne saucer, or sprinkle a few lavender buds in a tea latte
· Try your hand at a rose syrup or rose petal jam / jelly recipe
· Crystallize violets or pansies to decorate iced sugar cookies, cupcakes or individual cakes
· Use pansies to garnish creamed cheese appetizers, tea sandwiches, or sorbet
· Use allium flowers to garnish soups or salads
· Select a variety of petals to freeze into ice cubes and then add to favourite summer drinks
Read up on edible flowers and countless recipes before you try your hand, here are a couple recommendations:
The Edible Flower Garden, Rosalind Creasy
Katherine K. Schlosser: The Herb Society of America's Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs
Photo: pansies, vanilla bean, organic vanilla yogurt