Where did the practice of using edible flowers originate from?
It is as old as mankind itself. The gatherers used roots,fragrant scrubs and leaves(herbs), bark and seed(spices) as well as flowers(known for their pleasant pungeant aroma) to draw and infuse in potions. Some were used in ancient rituals and some just for the sheer enjoyment of it,but flowers(just as herbs and spices) have always held some mystical power of adornment.
Normally people aren’t sure if the flowers are there for decoration or to be eaten – what would you recommend using edible flowers for?
Firstly, as with any food item, herb or spice, make sure you know if it is to be used for medicinal or consumption purposes. If you are going to eat a flower in its raw form, gently nib off the calyx and stamens which are unpleasant and bitter to the taste. Then start experimenting with different flavour combinations by testing a few varieties. It’s like finding a good bottle of wine: the fun is in the tasting.
Use fresh in salads, dressings, creams and coolers. Use dried and draw as an infusion for your favourite ice tea or stir into sauces, jellies and risotto just before service for a Avant Garde approach to dining.
What would be the need to use these flowers in cooking? Is it for presentation or taste?
I suppose you can ask the same about any other food item for that matter. The question is not what or why, but why not? Our global palate has been subjected to deeper, lingering aromas and flavours. So yes, there is a consideration and misconception with diners that Flora cuisine might not stand its own ground. However, a better understanding of how to use this delicate ingredient will prove that the pretty flower can sing her own aria on the plate (and not just look the part…).
Can you recommend some of your favourite edible flowers you use in your dishes? Both meals and desserts?
The Pungeant Lavender,Rose,Camomile and Jasmine petals and stems are very versatile indeed. I use them for sweet and savoury. They pair beautifully with beef,lamb,chicken and even pork. Shellfish stand up well to these pungent petals and pairs well with a slight heat element of chilli or a splash of white /rose wine.
Gentle infusions come from the Viola,Snapdragon,Sweet William as well as Wisteria(to name but a few). These petals work well with lemon and can be used for sweet and savoury as well(as in the case of the Pungent flowers).
What is your favourite dish you make using edible flowers and why?
So much to choose! One of my favourite ones was a dish I prepared as Plat du Jour at Die Ou Pastorie,Somerset West years ago. It was a Tulip stuffed with White Choc Mousse, with mock Baklava sheets and a Vanilla-Jasmine infused Honey drizzle. Another one would be a classic Lavender Bavarois with Raspberry-rose Coulis and Pistachio Melba.
Do you have any of your own tips and tricks for the public on using edible flowers in cuisine?
As with all herbs/spices,there is two things you need to consider. What is the purpose of the product in the dish and at which time during the cooking /preparation/service time do I add it? Knowledge and timing is key,but then again,all knowledge is there for the taking if we want to wake up and smell the roses…