April 17, 2008

At the Table: How to Eat Flowers

Edible flowers are gorgeous sprinkled onto a salad, satisfying in a tea, and also make incredible candy. Not all flowers are edible! Only eat flowers who you know to be edible. It is also important to know the source of your flowers. Only eat organically grown flowers, and never from a florist, nursery, or garden center. Flowers picked by the side of a road are contaminated by car emissions, so keep driving! If you have asthma or allergies do not risk eating flowers. 

When gathering your flowers remember to search in the early morning and to pick only flowers in their prime. Flowers, as we know, are perishable and will wilt in warm conditions. Place long stemmed flowers into water and short stemmed blossoms between sheets of damp paper towel or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It is best to gather them within 3 or 4 hours of dining. 

Immediately before using, gently wash and check carefully for bugs. Some flowers are fragile, so test your cleaning method on one blossom first. Such flowers need extra careful insect inspection. Eat only the petals of flowers, discarding the pistils and stamens. For your enjoyment, this is how you candy flowers:

1 egg white
100-proof vodka
superfine granulated sugar
thin artist's paintbrush
violets (or other flower to be candied -- pansy, rose petals, lilac, borage, pea, pinks, scented geranium)
wire cake rack
baking parchment

In a small bowl, beat egg whites to a light froth. Add 1 or 2 drops of vodka, which helps the flowers to dry faster. Place sugar in a shallow bowl. Cover cake rack with parchment. 

Hold the top of the stem between your thumb and forefinger. Dip the paintbrush into the egg wash and gently paint all the surfaces. Make sure to get between all petals. Next, sprinkle sugar on the flower, making sure to cover all the surface and between the petals. Place face up on the parchment. Now repeat!

When you have finished as many flowers as you can, place them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area so they can dry completely. They will be stiff and brittle when dry, and should be stored in an air tight container. 
*adapted from Cathy Wilkinson Barash's book Edible Flowers - Desserts & Drinks.

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