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Source: The National Culinary Review, June'94 Flowers also can be used to make tea. Chamomile, hibiscus, jasmine, marigold and rose are excellent choices because of their strong fragrances. A teaspoon of dried flower petals steeped in a cup of freshly boiled water for five to 10 minutes makes a delightful cup of tea. And candied or crystallized flower blossoms add panache to every dessert imaginable, from cupcakes to cheesecake. Apple and plum blossoms, borage flowers, lilac florets, rose petals, scented geraniums and the violas (violets, Johnny jump-ups and pansy petals) are ideal for this use.
Purists, however, insist that edible flowers should not be tampered with, but given a place of prominence on the plate, either nestled in a salad, used as a plate garnish, or topping a dessert. Purists simply ask that you do eat the flowers because each has a distinctive taste. Entertaining with flowers The best way to introduce your taste buds to edible flowers is with caution. First, smell the flower.
Aroma is such an important part of taste. It is recommended to nibble at the flower, rather than to eat it whole, in order to detect the flavor. It is much like an introduction to wine. Do not overwhelm your dinner guests with large blooms. Instead, scatter petals lightly over a dish, and let your guests slowly sample their delicate taste. Edible flowers are ideal for floating in punch, crystallized atop desserts, frozen in ice cubes and pressed into soft cheese. Heat wilts the petals so they should be added to a hot dish at the very last moment. Enamel, glass or stainless steel cookware should be used to avoid discoloration of the petals. Entertaining with flowers can be spectacular. At Christmas, puddings made with lavender, mince pies with crystallized petals, cake with fresh flowers; At Easter, stuffed fish fillets served with chive flowers and buttered new potatoes topped with chickweed; At weddings, whole baked salmon with borage flowers, nasturtium salad, and herb and flower cheeses. For buffets, stuffed eggs with marigolds, fish and flower terrines, ceviche with sage flowers, cold seafood pasta with chive flowers, quiche with pansies, summer fruit and flower jelly, primavera salad with violets, chive blossoms scattered over a simple cheese omelet, chicken salad heaped into tulip blossoms, scoops of sherbet in gladiolus flowers, a sprinkle of violets over vanilla custard, and flower cookies. These are dishes that nourish the body, while the flowers nourish the soul. But more importantly, how do they all taste? Bachelor buttons, daisies and pansies have a bland taste.
Calendulas can be bitter or a bit peppery. Chive blossoms taste like mild onion. Blue borage brings to mind cucumber. Fuchsia has been described as "a soft mouthful of disappointment, but gorgeous." And roses ... well, they taste like roses. Chefs seem divided on the issue of edible flowers. Daniel Bruce, executive chef at the Boston Harbor Hotel, has no use for pretty petals in his inspiring dishes.
He doesn't believe they offer any substantial taste, and he feels that taste is more important than looks when it comes to great food.
Some chefs, unsure how their customers will react to petals on the plate, feel a serious education campaign will have to take place before edible flowers become commonly accepted. Educating the public can be a tough task. Some chefs estimate that 99 percent of the flowers they had on a dish remain there at the end of the meal. With edible flowers costing between 20 and 50 cents each, it takes a chef with a serious commitment to continue serving an uneaten portion of a meal. Those committed to edible flowers feel they add to the visual experience of a meal, more so than flavor or taste, and use the blossoms to dress up their finished plates. There is no labor involved when a flower is used, they say. You don't have to do anything to it to make it beautiful. Proponents say no other garnish enhances a dish like a flower. Alfonso Contrisciani, CEC, chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University, says that edible flowers were absolutely essential in the kitchens at the Showboat Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, where he was the assistant executive chef. We used edible flowers for our inter-mezzo courses, as a garnish on a sorbet or a salad, usually on cold plates," he explained. "There was one hot appetizer, a crab au gratin, that we garnished with beautiful purple and white nasturtiums. Nasturtiums were the flowers we used the
most. When you have a dinner party for 250 people or more, edible flowers are without a doubt the easiest way to garnish the plates.
The demand for edible flowers is growing with an increasing number of sophisticated chefs well versed on how to use nasturtiums, pansies, day lilies and chive flowers. Farmer Jones Farm, which has been selling edible flowers for more than a decade, reports an increase in sales every year.
Submitted By SHERREE JOHANSSON On 10-23-94