I remember reading a quote once, from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“The earth laughs in wildflowers.”
What a picture those few words imprinted on my mind. I imagined a watercolor painting; the moment when a paintbrush touches down, bleeding its contents slowly and haphazardly onto the paper, each fiber coming alive with color. I thought of endless rolling fields, blank like a canvas, grateful to be the recipients of such beauty. Wildflowers exploding across the landscape … giving the most colorful show and perfuming the world with their incomparable smell, and their magic. This is the earth sharing its happiness.
“A flower blossoms for its own joy.” Oscar Wilde
A nice thought by all accounts, and one I shared with Elle recently while she helped me pull weeds and poke around in our backyard. She completely delights in all things that come from the earth – the animals, the humans, the air, the wind, the rain, the puddles, the bugs, and the flowers. Always the flowers.
On this particular day, we spent the afternoon talking about them, picking them, and making things out of them. The lilac bushes out front had burst wide open and their lavender-pink blossoms were ripe for the picking. “We’ll put those in some sugar and use it to decorate a few sweet treats,” I told her. The very thought of sweet floral sugar had widened her eyes and piqued her interest almost enough to lead her astray from the bunch of “flowers” she’d been working on.
“Before we go inside, why don’t you finish that crown you’re making, hmm?” She nodded and her little fingers began working the dandelion stems again, an effort to weave them together into a lovely golden crown.
I felt the first few drops of rain then, signaling that yet another spring storm would be rolling through any minute, further inspiring us to abandon our dandelion crown weaving station for the day. Elle covered her crown-in-progess with a large bucket for safekeeping and ran inside. I heard her shoes thump against the wall as she kicked them off … her feet pounding excitedly up the stairs and into the kitchen, where she waited for me to show her how to make lilac sugar.
Making my way to the house, I gathered up some loose toys to protect them from the impending downfall – our third in as many days. Sigh. It was hard, though, not to appreciate the very obvious and apparent presence of spring. Once inside, we made our extra special lilac sugar and used it to coat some doughnuts that I fried up out of some buttermilk biscuit dough I had in the fridge. They cooled on a plate by the window as the rains began to fall.
The afternoon storm filled the air with the smell of spring rain and wet pavement; flirting, beckoning us out to the front porch for a front-row seat. The neighbors had just cut their grass, and few smells can top that, if you ask me. You wait out the cold months for it to come back again. The dark skies cast a dramatic backdrop for the delicate pink petals that decorate all of the trees. Spring and its many charms. We enjoyed the remainder of our doughnuts right there on the porch. To date, the most visited post on my blog is one from a couple of years ago where I featured the recipe for a very simple but lovely arugula and wildflower salad. The popularity and longevity of that post has me believing that people are generally pretty enthused about the notion of including edible floral touches in their food – a notion that I also wholeheartedly support. Similar to the way we weave fresh seasonal herbs into and on top of our recipes, it is also really nice to do the same with florals while they’re around for the taking. It is their fleeting nature, I think, that makes them so very appealing and special. Best to take full advantage of them while we can, no? As such, I’ve got a few simple suggestions here, in addition to wildflower salad and lilac sugar, for ways you can incorporate florals into your food and drinks with minimal effort and maximum effect.
However before doing so, I do recommend verifying that the flowers you choose are 1) definitely edible (i.e. not poisonous) and 2) that they taste good. Because when it comes to their use in culinary endeavors, not all flowers are created equal. My absolute favorite source for edible flowers is Gourmet Sweet Botanicals. Their selection is massive and utterly drool-worthy; if you’re anything like me, it will leave you inspired to work some floral magic into your recipes too.
Another one of my favorite ways to use edible wildflowers is as a finishing touch to a dish that contains a similar herb or flavor – a hint to what’s inside. In the gnocchi with pesto dish that I’ve got pictured below, for example, I use pretty basil and chive blossoms to echo the fact that both of those herbs are present in the bright, fresh pesto sauce. In that same vein, I’ll dust rose-flavored desserts with dried rose petals or sprinkle on a few purple pea flowers when I cook a dish with sweet peas … you get the idea. The flowers are a nice clue as to what’s inside the dish … and if no one gets it but you, I still think it’s fun. And it’s pretty too, so there’s that.
Last but not least, in addition to sugars, salads, and garnish “clues,” I also like to freeze wildflowers into ice cubes and use them in cocktails and punches, like in these Bee’s Knees cocktails that I made over the weekend …
So there you have it; a little bit of springtime floral inspiration for you. No specific recipes this time, but often I find it is ideas that I crave most – food for thought, you might say. This is only the tip of the (floral) iceberg though, when it comes to using edible flowers in food. What are some of your favorite ways to use them? I’m all ears.
“I must have flowers. Always and always.” – Claude Monet