Photo by Judith Hausman
Since then, I’ve grown nasturtiums in my own window boxes every summer.
A toss of edible flowers in a dish makes a great conversation piece, and there are quite a few blooms from which to choose. Johnny-jump-ups’ little pansy faces look beautiful on top of goat cheese. In addition to the nasturtiums in your salad bowl, try blue bachelor’s buttons (cornflower) and tiger lily buds. In fact, the (wild but not Asian) lily bulbs can be cleaned and thinly sliced to eat as well. Calendula in salve form is prized for its healing properties, but the orange and yellow blossoms are edible. Red-orange marigold petals look spectacular on top of a grain salad but can be bitter. Pink, red and white dianthus (carnation) taste a little spicy and clove-like. Violets taste mildly sweet and perfume-like, as do lilacs.
To expand our definition a little, flowering herbs, of course, are edible as well. Fuzzy chive flowers taste like a milder version of their onion-like greens. Lavender flowers add something special to lemon pound cakes or buttery scones. The mounding daisy flowers of chamomile make famously good tea, just as hibiscus, jasmine and chrysanthemums are used to make infusions or teas in Asia. The petals of antique or heirloom roses (don’t use florist roses) in particular can flavor delicate jellies, vinegars or cakes. Rosewater and orange flower water are often used in place of vanilla for baking Middle Eastern sweets.
If you are looking for some more creative add-ins for your salad, you might check out the weeds – as well as the flowers – in your garden. Last month, in a trendy New York City restaurant, I was served a purslane salad with blueberries and chopped almonds. I had just spent the morning pulling big mats of purslane out of the garden, but the young chef had actually bought this purslane at the farmers market! The fleshy leaves are mild, crunchy and very healthy, too.
To make rose-scented sugar for baking or for sweetening tea, combine one part rose petals with two parts white sugar and leave it covered for a month. Then, sieve out the rose petals before using.
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.