Lessons in Living a French Life

Bringing a touch of French culture to everyday life

Today's Weekly Voilà: Using Edible Flowers in the Kitchen 😊🌸💕🇫🇷

"Flowers are used in food by someone who cares about the beauty of what you are about to eat."
- Constance Kirker, Edible Flowers: A Global History
My first introduction to edible flowers was in France. A beautiful salad of baby greens with brilliant orange nasturtiums was picked straight from the garden and served alfresco on a warm Alsatian day. At the tender age of 14, I was certain that eating flowers was the most elegant and French thing I would ever do. Forty years later, I still feel joy when I prepare flowers from my garden. There are so many culinary possibilities. Desired for their flavors, aromas, textures, colors, edible flowers can be used fresh, frozen, dried, or crystallized. Toss them into salads, make jellies, vinegars, teas, liqueurs, and decorate desserts. If nothing else, fill a pretty glass pitcher with a small bouquet of flowers and filtered water for your dinner table. They impart a subtle flavor and your guests will enjoy that added touch. Just be sure you use edible flowers.
There are plenty of edible flowers to explore in your kitchen. Beyond the list above, there are squash blossom, orchid, hibiscus, daylily, lilac, sunflower, even the simple dandelion can make a delicious jelly. Be sure you know your flowers because some are poisonous. Others just taste bad. A pea flower is lovely; but, they are very bitter and will ruin any bite of salad. You also need to know your source for edible flowers. Look for organic options in stores, ask your local farmer if she or he applies pesticides, or best yet, grow them yourself. Once you pick them, they won't last long. Gently wash and dry and add just before serving so they look and taste their best.
One of the easiest recipes for edible flowers is to make a colorful flower-infused simple syrup to add to lemonade, summer cocktails, or to make sorbets. You use twice as much sugar to water and the flowers of your choice. Dissolve 2 cups of sugar in 1 cup of water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a simmer. Place approximately 1 cup of flowers in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Pour hot syrup over the top and let stand for at least 30 minutes. Strain the mixture and discard the flowers. You can store your simple syrup in the fridge for a month or more. If you find the syrup is too thick, add more water. If the syrup begins to crystalize, just reheat. When you serve, add fresh or crystalized flowers as a garnish.

Most of the elderflowers I pick end up in a simple syrup. I add the juice and zest of one lemon to the recipe above. I serve the syrup with sparkling water, fresh lemon balm, and lemon slices for a refreshing summer beverage. I find guests also enjoy lavender syrup mixed with lemonade. Use the recipe above and add 2 tablespoons of lavender buds. Careful, this is a very potent herb. Plus, the syrup will get stronger the longer you allow it to infuse. So taste often and pull out the buds when you find the perfect lavender flavor. And yes, rose petals - lots of rose petals make a wonderful simple syrup. Note, if the rose doesn't have much fragrance, the syrup won't have much flavor. Again, be sure all your flowers are organic and without harmful chemicals. 
You can also infuse honey or sugar with lavender and rose buds. For the honey, place 1 tablespoon lavender buds and 1 tablespoon of rose buds in a 16 ounce jar and pour 1 cup of honey over the flowers. Cover with lid and invert the jar a few times to incorporate. Set it on the kitchen counter for a little sunlight and invert the jar once or twice a day for two weeks. Strain the honey through a fine mesh sieve into a clean jar and store covered in a cool dry place. For lavender sugar, add a tablespoon of lavender buds to a cup of white sugar in a clean glass jar.  Invert the jar to mix and allow to sit on the counter for a few days before using. Voilà! The sugar will keep for months in a dry pantry. I make lavender sugar for a specific sugar cookie recipe. It adds just a hint of delicate flavor. I also sprinkle a tiny bit of fresh lavender onto the finished, glazed cookie.
The use of flowers in the kitchen is as extraordinary as the flowers themselves. It's not accidental. They are chosen with care and served with both beauty and flavor in mind. It is such a simple addition for a big impact. If you only have a small herb container in your kitchen window, add a couple calendula and nasturtiums to the box for both color and the ability to have edible flowers available.

Next week, let's continue with our love affair with spring and her flowers. I'll share my easy peasy method for making crystalized flowers that can be stored for months. The next time you have to bring a dessert to a function, simple cupcakes in a pretty wrapper and topped with a sugary violet will capture everyone's attention and delight.
This weekend, make some room in your garden for edible flowers.

À bientôt mon amie,