Flowers as a garnish is one of the simplest ways to make a plate inviting and get your garden blooms into the kitchen. Just don’t add an inedible flower, says Chef Liz Barbour of The Creative Feast in Hollis. Beyond using flowers as a garnish, she has developed a series of recipes that use blooms in the preparation and she teaches edible flower cooking in season.
Distributing blooms into greens for a real “garden” salad makes use of their color and sweet-to-tangy flavor. Barbour also suggests adding them to cooked vegetables just before serving. A basic rule is to treat them like an herb, an accent to a dish. See page 104 for several of her recipes.
A former restaurant chef and caterer, Barbour has settled on teaching the art of cooking to small- to medium-sized groups. Here, she is able to give tips on techniques and kitchen basics while presenting ideas for simple but savory meals. Her usual closing statement is “Tonight the recipe is mine, tomorrow it is yours,” encouraging tinkering with the recipes handed out at the end of the evening.
Her antique gambrel in Hollis is bejeweled with all the colors and textures of an English cottage garden, complete with the picket fence. Aside from a vegetable garden with the ubiquitous zucchini, Barbour has planted a full complement of edible flowers. Tall sunflowers bend in the breeze while calendula, rosa rugosa and daylilies nestle closer to the earth. As the season progresses, a parade of blooms add color and texture to many of her recipes and presentations.
Barbour continues to study flowers and develop recipes that allow the bloom and beauty of a particular flower to complement the other ingredients. One of her favorites is the daylily (not Asiatic lilies, which are poisonous). She suggests using the bloom for stuffing with savory things like an herbed ricotta or whipped avocado with lime.
To round out her classes, Barbour seeks out the newest food trends and develops recipes that showcase world cuisine, seasonal produce, lighter fare and menus for entertaining. Presentation is always key, and she shows participants how to best plate the dish, too.
Visit www.thecreativefeast.com for her upcoming schedule including: “Eat What We Sow — Late Summer Recipes Inspired by New Hampshire’s Local Harvest,” July 21, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Brookdale Fruit Farm, Rte. 130. Hollis. $55.
Tips For Using Edible Flowers
NEVER use pesticides or other chemicals on any part of any plant that produces blossoms you plan to eat.
If you plan to use flowers from purchased plants, deadhead the plants first and allow the flowers to grow back. If you choose to use pesticides, select ones that are labeled for edible plants.
Eat only flowers you KNOW are edible and only the petals of most flowers.
Edible flowers make beautiful garnishes for desserts, salads, sauces, passed hors d’oeuvres and buffet tables. Never garnish with an inedible flower.
Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating because the pollen can detract from the flavor of the flower as well as cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.
Sample a flower or two for flavor before harvesting.
Immediately before using, gently wash the flowers to remove dirt and check for insects.
Small blooms can be frozen in ice cubes for drinks and can be used to make pretty adornments for frosted cakes, sorbets or any other desserts.
More highly scented flowers have a stronger flavor.
Edible flowers should be used in the same ways that we use herbs, to accent the taste of a dish.
Alliums: (same family as leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives) – Their flavors range from mild onions and leeks right through to strong onion and garlic. All parts of the plants are edible including the blossoms, which are usually milder.
Bee Balm: The taste of bee balm is reminiscent of citrus with soft mingling of lemon and orange. The red flowers have a minty flavor. Any place you use oregano, you can use bee balm blossoms. The leaves and flower petals can also be used in both fruit and regular salads. The leaves can be used as a tea.
Calendula: Also called Marigolds. A wonderful edible flower — flavors range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Their sharp taste resembles saffron (also known as Poor Man’s Saffron). Sprinkle petals on soups, pasta or rice dishes, herb butters, and salads. Petals add a yellow tint to soups, spreads, and scrambled eggs.
Carnations: Steep in wine, candy, or use as cake decoration. To use the surprisingly sweet petals in desserts, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. Dianthus is the miniature member of the carnation family with light clove-like or nutmeg scent. Petals add color to salads or aspics. Carnation petals are one of secret ingredients that have been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.
Chamomile: The flowers are small and daisy-like and have a sweet, apple-like flavor.
Chrysanthemums: Tangy, slightly bitter, ranging in colors from red, white, yellow and orange. They range in taste from faint peppery to mild cauliflower. They should be blanched first and then scatter the petals on a salad. The leaves can also be used to flavor vinegar. Always remove the bitter flower base and use petals only.
Clover: Sweet, anise-like, licorice.
Cornflower: Also called Bachelor’s button. They have a slightly sweet to spicy, clove-like flavor. Bloom is a natural food dye. More commonly used as garnish.
Daylilies: Slightly sweet with a mild vegetable flavor, like sweet lettuce or melon. Their flavor is a combination of asparagus and zucchini. Chewable consistency. Some people think that different colored blossoms have different flavors. To use the surprisingly sweet petals in desserts, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. Also great to stuff like squash blossoms. Flowers look beautiful on composed salad platters or crowning a frosted cake. Sprinkle the large petals in a spring salad. In the spring, gather shoots two or three inches tall and use as a substitute for asparagus. NOTE: Many Lilies contain alkaloids and are NOT edible. Day Lilies may act as a laxative.
English Daisy: The flowers have a mildly bitter taste and are most commonly used for their looks than their flavor. The petals are used as a garnish and in salads.
Fuchsia – Blooms have no distinct flavor. Explosive colors and graceful shape make it ideal as garnish.
Gladiolas: Flowers (anthers removed) have a nondescript flavor but make handsome receptacles for sweet or savory spreads. Toss individual petals in salads.
Hibiscus – Cranberry-like flavor with citrus overtones. Use slightly acidic petals sparingly in salads or as garnish.
Johnny-Jump-Ups: Lovely yellow, white and purple blooms have a mild wintergreen flavor and can be used in salads, to decorate cakes, or served with soft cheese. They are also a great addition to drinks, soups, desserts or salads.
Lavender – Sweet, floral flavor, with lemon and citrus notes. Flowers look beautiful and taste good too in a glass of champagne, with chocolate cake, or as a garnish for sorbets or ice creams. Lavender lends itself to savory dishes also, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. NOTE: Do not consume lavender oil unless you absolutely know that it has not be sprayed and is culinary safe.
Lilac: The flavor of lilacs varies from plant to plant. Very perfume, slightly bitter. Has a distinct lemony taste with floral, pungent overtones. Great in salads.
Nasturtiums: Come in varieties ranging from trailing to upright and in brilliant sunset colors with peppery flavors. Nasturtiums rank among most common edible flowers. Blossoms have a sweet, spicy flavor similar to watercress. Stuff whole flowers with savory mousse. Leaves add peppery tang to salads. Pickled seedpods are less expensive substitute for capers. Use entire flowers to garnish platters, salads, cheese tortes, open-faced sandwiches, and savory appetizers.
Pansy: Pansies have a slightly sweet green or grassy flavor. If you eat only the petals, the flavor is extremely mild, but if you eat the whole flower, there is a wintergreen overtone. Use them as garnishes, in fruit salads, green salad, and desserts or in soups.
Petunia: Petunia flowers have a mild flowery taste and can be used as a garnish.
Roses: Flavors depend on type, color, and soil conditions. Flavor reminiscent of strawberries and green apples. Sweet, with subtle undertones ranging from fruit to mint to spice. All roses are edible, with the flavor being more pronounced in the darker varieties. In miniature varieties can garnish ice cream and desserts, or larger petals can be sprinkled on desserts or salads. Freeze them in ice cubes and float them in punches also. Petals used in syrups, jellies, and perfumed butters and sweet spreads.
Snap Dragon: Delicate garden variety can be bland to bitter. Flavors depend on type, color, and soil conditions.
Squash Blossoms: Squash and pumpkin blossoms are edible and taste mildly of raw squash. Prepare the blossoms by washing and trimming the stems and remove the stamens.
Sunflower: The flower is best eaten in the bud stage when it tastes similar to artichokes. Once the flower opens, the petals may be used like chrysanthemums, the flavor is distinctly bittersweet. The unopened flower buds can also be steamed like artichokes.
Tuberous Begonia: NOTE Only Hybrids are edible. The petals of the tuberous begonias are edible. Their bright colors and sour, fruity taste brings flavor and beauty to any summer salad. Begonia blossoms have a delicious citrusy sour taste and a juicy crunch. The petals are used as a garnish and in salads. Stems, also, can be used in place of rhubarb. The flowers and stems contain oxalic acid and should not be consumed by individuals suffering from gout, kidney stones, or rheumatism.
Violets: Sweet, perfumed flavor. Related flowers, Johnny jump-ups or violas, and pansies now come in colorful purples and yellows to apricot and pastel hues. I like to eat the tender leaves and flowers in salads. I also use the flowers to beautifully embellish desserts and iced drinks. Freeze them in punches to delight children and adults alike. All of these flowers make pretty adornments for frosted cakes, sorbets, or any other desserts, and they may be crystallized as well. Heart-shaped leaves are edible, and tasty when cooked like spinach.
Petal-Encrusted Scrod with Flower Petal Cream Sauce
By Liz Barbour, The Creative Feast. Makes four servings.
4 Pieces (1/3 pound each) of scrod, ask for the thick end, if possible
2 Eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon of chive flowerets
2 Tablespoons of calendula petals
1 Tablespoon of dill, mint or thyme flowers
1 Cup of plain bread crumbs
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Pat the scrod dry and season both sides with salt and pepper. Combine the flower petals and the bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Dip the seasoned scrod into the egg and coat on both sides. Place the fish into the bread crumbs and press firmly so that the mixture adheres to the fish. Repeat on the other side, shaking the fish of any extra crumbs.
Add the butter and the olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat until the butter melts and bubbles.
Add the coated scrod and cook for about 4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the fish from sticking. Carefully turn the fish over and cook on the other side about 3-4 minutes. The fish should be firm to the touch without completely falling apart.
As an alternative, you can cook the fish on one side, turn the fish over in the pan and then place the pan in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes until the fish is firm.
Serve immediately with the sauce.
Flower Petal Sauce
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Large shallot, minced
1 1/2 Cups homemade chicken stock (or low-sodium chicken broth)
1 1/2 Cups whipping cream
10 Lemon verbena leaves (or 3 tsp. lemon zest), chopped
3/8 Teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 Teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon chive blossoms, picked into individual flowerets
1 Tablespoon bachelor’s button petals
1 Tablespoon tuberous begonia petals (red or pink), cut into thin strips.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized sauté pan with the shallots and cook until translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the chicken broth, the verbena leaves and cayenne pepper and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced by half (about 4 minutes).
Add the cream and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly (about 3 minutes). Using a fine strainer, strain the sauce. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the mint and the flower petals. Finish with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Note: Feel free to substitute flowers based on their availability and colorful assortment. Remember that the flowers from herbs will add the taste of that particular herb to this sauce.