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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aesthetic Eating

When I was little, my family’s house in New Hampshire was small and very old, having been built in the early 1700s. To keep us entertained and out from underfoot, my mother insisted my brother and I spend the majority of our time playing outside. Being in the country, the house had an acre backyard with woods behind it. With the exception of the  weather (snow 7 months of the year and biting black fly swarms for another 2 months), it was an idyllic environment to grow up in.
My mom kept a large vegetable garden and we had a hedgerow of wild raspberry and blackberry bushes. When my brother and I needed a snack we could forage amongst the available roughage. Green beans, snap peas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and berries were our primary staples, but I also loved to graze in the flower garden. Many of the flowers my mom grew were edible, and I used to nibble on nasturtiums, carnations and violets, along with bok choy flowers, squash blossoms and herbs from the vegetable garden. 
While using edible flowers on cakes has been popular for quite some time, over the past few years more and more restaurants have started adding edible flowers to their soups, salads and appetizers. The effect is not only delicious, but aesthetically appealing. 

For the even more adventurous, there is also the option of making rose, violet and other “floral” jams and jellies!

Of course, not all flowers are edible and it is important to do your homework before using flowers in your cooking. Poisoning one's dinner guests is generally frowned upon. The internet has a number of “eat this, not that” flower websites and there are several cookbooks available regarding the use of flowers in cooking. The best of the ones I’ve seen so far is this one:

The recipes are pretty straight forward and the pictures are beautiful. I found it at a half-price bookstore and nostalgia demanded I buy it. Sadly, it is really only useful for a few months out of the year. As lovely as poinsettias and holly are, they don’t make for tasty (or safe) eating. Still, for those who want to get the most out of their summer garden or local farmer's market, I highly recommend adding more flora to their cuisine. Make squash blossom soup, nasturtium salad,  or rose petal-almond scones. Even instant pudding looks impressive when served in little glass cups and topped with sugared violets. It's so "green", so chic, so incredibly easy. Throw a backyard garden party with floral foods and herb-infused cocktails and everyone will be calling you the next Martha. 

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