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Source: The National Culinary Review, June'94 Edible flowers: a history It is commonly thought that the pop- ularity of edible flowers is an outgrowth of California nouvelle cuisine. Wolfgang Puck, chef-owner of Spago in Los Angeles, and other trend-setting chefs have gained national attention by doing things in a new and different may But edible flowers are not new. People have been eating flowers and using them in presentations since ancient times, according to Susan Belsinger, author of Flozvers in the Kitchen.
Flowers have been used for culinary purposes since the earliest times. Many recipes, dating back to the Romans, have been recorded using flowers to prepare everything from meads to meats. The Roman Cook Book mentions violets and roses as recipe ingredients. Gladioli bulbs were baked in the ashes and eaten with salt and oil, or pounded with figs. Lavender was used in sauces and to flavor honey. Wine was sometimes scented with rose petals. In the 17th century, edible flowers began to play a more important part in food preparation.
During the time of Shakespeare, whose plays are full of references to flowers, every English household was hung with huge bunches of flowers drying for winter use. Wealthier homes had impressive gardens where flowers ere grown for medicinal and culinary uses.
Preserved flowers were found in cakes, tarts, custards, puddings, creams, as decorations for fish and meat dishes, and in excellent liqueurs. Historically, flowers have been used in countless ways - crystallized for decoration; ground into sugar for flavoring; made into syrups; preserved in jams and jellies; and used in sauces. As far back as the 1600s, fresh flowers were used in salads and scattered through stews and soups. For centuries, great quantities of flowers have been grown in China and Japan for cooking and for making teas - hibiscus, jasmine, lily buds, lotus, orange blossoms and rose petals. Chrysanthemums, prominent in several Oriental dishes, are sold in the markets, washed and ready for cooking. Chrysanthemum hot pot, for example, combines fish, poultry and vegetables with the petals of dark yellow chrysanthemums. The Chinese believe that eating chrysanthemums will result in a longer life. The Japanese also use the petals of various chrysanthemums, sometimes boiling the roots to eat with soy sauce and sugar. Roses have played an important role in the spicy cuisine of the Middle East. Many dishes call for orange flowers and rose water, which has been used since 140 BE. Harvesting edible flowers Edible flowers are used in modern- day France and Germany, where flower teas, or tisanes, are used in place of sleeping pills. In England, adventuresome cooks and chefs usually use flowers grown in their backyard gardens to prepare extraordinary dishes.
Flowers should be picked at mid-morning on a warm, dry day after the dew has evaporated and before the day's heat starts to build. If you grow your own flowers, you may want to rinse them in a tub of cool water to flush out any insects. Pat the flowers dry. After you harvest your crop of edible flowers, place the petals on trays lined with a damp cloth and wrap each tray in plastic wrap, or wrap the petals in a plastic bag containing a damp napkin. Refrigerate the flowers to keep them fresh until meal time. Properly packaged flowers will last up to a week, if kept cold. If you are unable to tend an entire flower garden, try a simpler window box filled with edible flowers: lavender, nasturtiums and herbs that flowers such as, chive, basil and marjoram; or violets, pansies and sweet woodruff; or bergamot, anchusa, cornflowers and mint. Even amateur gardeners can coordinate the planting of several kinds of seasonal flowers to provide an almost continuous supply of culinary blossoms. If you do grow your own flowers, make certain not to use pesticides. Two of the most rewarding edible flowers to grow on your own are nasturtiums and day lilies. Nasturtiums are almost indestructible, and you can eat both the leaf and the blossom. They produce blossoms all summer and seem to thrive on poor soil. Day lilies have the flavor of chestnuts and can be added to soups, stuffings and stir-fry dishes. They are excellent dipped in batter and deep fried. Other easily grown edible flowers are marigolds and dandelions. Marigold petals enhance everything from cottage cheese to wine. Dandelions, commonly used in Italy, can be steamed or used in salads and omelets. They are best known as the main ingredient in dandelion wine, which tastes like a light sherry.
Using flowers in the kitchen can be very creative. The blossoms from dill and chive plants can be combined to make an unusual vinegar or savory butter. Refrain from combining more than two kinds of flowers in any one recipe. You do not want to confuse or shock your taste buds. The end result should be a harmonious blend of flavors and colors, with a surprise taste or two. For best results, always use flowers at their peak. Avoid unopened buds, faded or wilted flowers, unless you're fond of bitter flavors.
Submitted By SHERREE JOHANSSON On 10-23-94