Tagged: edible flowers

Oct 08

Nasturtiums and pauper’s capers

 

 

Looks like it’s going to get colder, so this is my last chance to praise the humble nasturtium before the first frosts do away with it.

Nasturtiums on wicker support

Nasturtiums on wicker support

 

The leaves are already turning yellow on the rampant nasturtiums of my allotment, a sure sign that they’re on their way out. So, a last hoorah for the lovable nasturtium!

Jolly and easy to grow (thriving on poor soil and neglect), nasturtiums were the first flowers that many of us were encouraged to grow as children. I only learned this year that they’re a native of North America, brought to Europe about the time that potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco made landfall. The name comes from Latin: literally ‘twisted nose’ as that’s what the peppery taste was supposed to do to your face.

We’ve been enjoying peppery nasturtium leaves and bright flowers in salads all summer. And I’ve been dying to try a recipe for mock-capers made from the seeds held up in triple-clusters on those succulent, crunchy stalks. To that end, I’ve been collecting the nice plump green ones. If you don’t have many nasturtiums, you can gather seed in batches, storing it in a bag in the salad drawer until you’ve amassed enough to fill a jar.

 

Yellow nasturtium

Yellow nasturtium

 

Pauper’s Capers 

So, this really couldn’t be simpler.

You will need:

a cup of nasturtium seeds. Just the green ones. Avoid any already turning brown; save those to plant next year instead.

a cup of white wine vinegar

5 black peppercorns (approximately)

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First, collect your nasturtium seeds

 

How to:

Wash any dirt or beasties off your seeds and dry them off with paper towel.

Place them in a jar: a preserving jar is great, but any jar will do.

Heat the white wine vinegar with the peppercorns in a small lidded pan. Once hot, pour the vinegar over the nasturtium seeds.

Seal the jar and, once cooled, place in the fridge. Leave for 3 long months, or until Christmas – whichever happens to be the  soonest.

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Pauper’s capers. Left: freshly pickled, and right: a month on.

 

My verdict: they were tested a little prematurely after just a month. Interestingly peppery with that vinegar kick, and still quite crunchy. Not bad, though not really capers. But who cares? It’s more thrifty garden food to add to the winter store cupboard. Farewell, nasturtiums, till next year!

 

End of the nasturtiums

Nasturtiums: all parts are edible, even the seeds! What’s not to love?

 

 

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Jul 08

Crystallised rose petals

 

Everything’s coming up roses just now, so let me show you something magical to try with roses from your garden. Yes, more thrifty edible flowers! I’ll get back to textiles again soon, honestly, but you have to make hay when the sun shines.

I worked on Claire Kelsey‘s ice cream book Melt last year (more of that to come in another post) ensuring that all the recipes were put through their paces. My task was to assign them to a happy band of volunteer testers and collate feedback. Some recipes were harder to place than others, perhaps because they seemed time-consuming and/or fiddly, required expensive/hard-to-find ingredients, or the testers just didn’t fancy them.

In the time-consuming/fiddly group was a recipe for Raspberry and Rose Pavlova which involved making a meringue nest, and crystallising some rose petals. Time-pressed testers spotted a time-sink and declined, so I tried it myself. We were well into autumn, but I still had some late-blooming roses in the garden. I found a couple with good fragrance. If you’re trying this at home, just be wary of using roses which have been sprayed with anything noxious, or are growing close to a main road.

Garden roses

The process really wasn’t so hard, or that time-consuming. All I had to do was detach the petals from the roses…

Red and white rose petals

…dip them in lightly beaten egg white, then into caster sugar, then lay them on an oven tray lined with baking parchment…

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…and bake them in a very low oven for less than an hour before allowing them to cool completely.

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It was really surprising to see those bright orangey-red petals turn a deep rose in the oven — not what I expected at all.  Mine tasted of rose too and the final frozen pavlova won over my family completely. Crystallised roses will keep for about 3 months too if you pop them in an airtight tin, separating the layers with greaseproof paper or baking parchment. You can use them to decorate cakes, desserts and confectionary, or (might I humbly suggest) nibble them decadently during a long soak in the bath. Because you’re worth it.

I tested a handful of recipes but this frozen pavlova was definitely the crowd-pleaser of the bunch. It didn’t hang around long.

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We all agreed that it would make the perfect summer wedding dessert; the final dish, topped with crystallized rose petals and ice-frosted raspberries was quite spectacular to look at: as if Titania herself had sprinkled it with fairy dust. And, best of all, it was heavenly to eat.

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Melt by Claire Kelsey is published by Simon & Schuster, RRP £18. It may also be available in your local supermarket.

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Jul 05

Borage

 

The sprigs of borage in wine are of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student. – John Evelyn, Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, 1699

 

Warming to my emerging ‘thrifty edible flowers’ theme, borage (Borago officinalis) is just a small garnish after those bagfuls of havested elderflowers, but it punches above its weight in the list of summer essentials. Wimbledon would be lost without it as no self-respecting Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is complete without a borage flower or two.

I didn’t realise until this week that the entire borage plant is edible, with leaves and flowers tasting faintly of cucumber. Mediterranean in origin, it has been plopped in wine from antiquity as a remedy for mood disorders: for the nervously exhausted, the melancholic, and those simply requiring an energy boost. Crusaders added it in their stirrup cups to aid the action of their Dutch courage. But it was probably brought here by the Romans as our word originates from the Celtic borrach (meaning ‘courage’).

The Welsh name Llawenlys means ‘herb of gladness’. I‘m all for Welsh flower names and for more gladness, wherever it can be found. And, in my continuing gladness quest, I have attained a new allotment. The waiting list was long, but well worth hanging on. I’m discovering a lot of things growing there without very much help from me; besides some rather antagonising perennial weeds, there is the delightful borage.

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Borage gladdening the allotment

 

Borage naturalised in Britain long, long ago and can quite easily be found gladdening waysides and waste places. Almost a weed, it self-seeds readily, and one of my allotment neighbours said I might find it cropping up on its own. Lo and behold, some oval-pointed prickly leaves appeared a few weeks ago, quickly followed by a stem bearing reddish tassely clusters. From downy buds, the most beautiful pure blue flowers emerged. They are star-shaped, giving rise to another name for borage, starflower. Dickens, famed for his showmanship and theatricality, favoured borage punch, and I can imagine how those vivid blue flowers might have bowled him over. His high energy levels and productivity were legendary, so perhaps borage beverages should be required drinking at all literary parties.

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A cluster of borage

 

Often prescribed by herbalists to relieve stress and anxiety, borage is also reputed to cleanse the kidneys. Modern research indicates that it may also work on the adrenal gland, which would explain that association with enhanced courage. It is high in calcium, potassium and mineral salts. Its other major benefit is that it’s an abundant source of GLA (gamma-linoleic acid), useful to treat PMT, menopausal symptoms, eczema etc But watch out, because it does contain some toxins, though in very small amounts; you’d have to eat an awful lot to do you any harm.

What to do with it:

  • Freeze flowers in ice cubes to plop prettily into your Pimm’s. You might want to remove the purply-black stamens from the petals first by giving them a gentle pull. I don’t bother.
  • Use leaves in salads
  • Use flowers in salads (looks stunning with scarlet nasturtiums) or to decorate desserts
  • Crystallize flowers for cake decorations
  • Chop leaves finely and eat in a sandwich with cream cheese 
  • Use leaves as an alternative to salt (rich in mineral salts) for those on a salt-free diet
  • Use it as a good plant companion: it’s reputed to be beneficial near strawberries, legumes and brassicas, and will do very nicely under roses. Sow it at intervals throughout the summer.
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Red currants and borage flower

 

And finally, there’s Claret Cup, another traditional way to float your borage on alcohol, though the idea of it doesn’t really float my boat. What do you think? Here’s an authentic recipe which appeared in a Victorian magazine:

1 large teaspoonful of white sugar dissolved in boiling water, 1 glass of sherry, 1/2 glass maraschino, a thin rind of lemon and a strip of cucumber rind, 1 large bottle of claret. Let all stand for an hour. Carry to the picnic, packed in ice, and laying a sprig of borage in the cup, add seltzer water when serving. The borage should not be allowed to remain in the cup, but it will impart an aroma that nothing else can. On this account the pretty blue flowers can be had of every gardener during the picnic season, and it is grown under glass all the year round for the express purpose of flavouring claret cup.

If you want something a little lighter (maybe with fizz) there are some more appealing borage drinks over here.

I’ve donated some of my allotment borage seedlings to the new Bath WI edible garden which is currently being planted in the beautiful Bath Botanical Gardens in Royal Victoria Park. If you’re local to Bath, do go along and feast your eyes.

 

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Jul 03

Elderflower cordial

 

Making your own elderflower cordial might seem an unnecessary faff when commercial varieties are so widely available. But it’s really not the same animal. Homemade looks completely different, for a start; it’s a translucent gold.  And the taste is different too: much fresher and citrusy than the shop can offer.  Then there’s the lemon-tinged aroma that fills your kitchen.

There are various ways to go about it, but all involve hot water, sugar, lemon and (of course) elderflowers. Some add other citrus fruits (orange, for example) and some boost the keeping qualities up to a year with additives such as citric acid or tartaric acid. I’ve experimented with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which I happened to have in the cupboard; it certainly helped keep the mixture bright gold instead of the oxidised brown I’ve disappointingly achieved without it. Without the added acid, your cordial will only keep for a few weeks in the fridge. Another option is to freeze it in plastic tubs for later use.

I’ll assume you’ve already harvested your elderflowers. If not, take a look at yesterday’s blog post.

 Ingredients:

  • 25 elderflower heads
  • 4 lemons 
  • 1- 1.5 kgs sugar
  • a heaped tspn ascorbic acid (or alternative)
  • 1.5-2 litres freshly boiled water

 

Method: 

Gently shake the flowers, holding them by the stalks, to remove any bugs. No need to wash them.

Pare the rind from the lemons (you can do this with a potato peeler).

Place this in a large bowl with the elderflowers.

Cut the lemons in half, squeeze out the juice and set the juice aside in the fridge, covered. Throw the lemon shells in with the elderflowers.

Add the ascorbic acid.

Pour on enough hot water to cover the flowers completely, cover with cling-film and leave the mixture to cool. This will take several hours. You can leave it  to steep overnight or for up to 48 hours.

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Soaking elderflowers

Strain through a muslin-lined sieve (though, in this case, I used an old linen napkin), compressing the elderflower debris with a saucer topped with a weight (a tin of beans will do nicely) to squeeze out all the liquid. Leave to drain for half an hour or so.

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Straining out elderflowers

Measure the resulting liquid and place it in a large saucepan. For every 500 ml, add 350g sugar and 50 ml of lemon juice (50 ml is roughly one lemon’s worth).

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Strained golden liquid

 

Heat gently till the sugar dissolves. Then turn up the heat till the mixture barely simmers. Remove from heat.

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Stirring till the sugar dissolves

 

Sticklers may re-strain their mixture at this point to remove any debris. But mere mortals can simply allow the mixture to cool before pouring into spanking clean bottles with the aid of a funnel. Corks in and you’re done.

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Elderflower cordial, bottled

Yield: about 5 bottles.

To drink: dilute to taste or with at least 5 parts water. Ice and sparkling water make it particularly refreshing.

And there are so many other ways you can use elderflower cordial: diluted with hot water to treat a cold; a glug added to any dessert containing gooseberries. But don’t get me started on the gooseberries!

 

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Jun 12

Rose Vinegar

 

Life may be too short to stuff a mushroom, as Shirley Conran once famously observed, but I hope it’s long enough to make rose vinegar.

When I say ‘make’, it’s just a question of soaking scented rose petals in white wine vinegar for a couple of weeks. You don’t really have to do anything. Time and a little window sunlight do the job for you. And the result is jewel-coloured and frankly a little magical; remember those perfume potions you tried to make from rose petals and tap water when you were a kid? They never worked. Well, this one does. It can be used to make exotic salad dressings or to sour cream or milk for baking purposes; I’ve used it to sour cream for a devil’s food cake chocolate frosting which was out of this world.

Of course, the devil is in the detail and first you have to track down your scented rose. Do please ask your neighbour first if they mind before you lop any blooms from across the hedge. If you want to buy a commercially produced rose to make this, do check whether your rose is suitable for culinary purposes (i.e. that it hasn’t been sprayed with anything deadly to man and beast). Tip: it’s best to use a dark rose. Apparently the darker the rose, as a rule of thumb, the stronger the scent. You certainly won’t get that lovely ruby colour without it. This rose grows in my garden and has the most wonderful velvety texture and scent. I have no idea what its name is, but I wait for it to blossom each May with real anticipation.

Sweet-smelling rose

A luxuriously scented red rose from my garden

 

If you’re lucky enough to have access to garden roses, pick your newly opened rose in the morning, after the dew has been evaporated by any sunlight that you’re fortunate enough to have (I live in England so this is a sore point); that’s when your rose has the strongest scent. If you’re really picky, give your rose a wash, but you may wash away a good deal of the scent too. My policy is simply to remove any obvious wildlife, and I haven’t found any nasties in my rose vinegar yet.

Now locate a clean bottle or wide-mouthed jar. Remove the petals from your rose and place them in the jar. One rose is enough for a standard bottle of white wine vinegar.

Making rose vinegar

Place the petals in a clean bottle or jar

 

Add enough white wine vinegar to cover the petals, or fill to top.

Dill seedlings and rose vinegar

Leave on a sunny windowsill for about 2 weeks

 

Pop in a cork and leave bottle/jar on a sunny windowsill for about 2 weeks.

Rose vinegar, a day later

This is what you get after just one day – colour/flavour will intensify further

 

Strain through a sieve and/or muslin and re-bottle (in a spankingly clean receptacle). Cork, label, enjoy or give away to a grateful friend/bemused adversary. This is one of those projects which is both thrifty and luxurious (I love that!). If you try it, tell me what you think of it, or what you make from it. If you’re baffled that anyone should do such a thing, please have a go. I promise that, in the depths of winter, you’ll uncork that bottle, sniff it and remember those warm summer days with real pleasure.

 

Red rose

Velvety red rose

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