Nothing says Springtime like a posy of flowers. After the seemingly endless grey of winter, early Spring flowers are a welcome splash of colour and life. They look almost good enough to eat. Which is handy. Because with many of them, you can. So hurrah for edible flowers.
Take dandelions. In my veg patch at this time of year dandelions grow faster than anything else. I used to get quite stressed about weeds in the patch. But now I've learnt to embrace them. Especially when I can eat them. Technically the leaves of dandelion are edible, but frankly I find them horribly bitter and anyone who says otherwise is only doing so because they want you believe they live in some Country Life foraged idyll. As with all wild food, just because you can eat it, doesn't mean you should. Avoid.
The petals on the other hand are much milder, slightly sweet and look gorgeous in risotto (they'd be a great addition to my squash spelt risotto recipe). I've taken to sprinkling them over pretty much anything when I feel in need of a girlie finish.
Primrose flowers have a sort of mild honey flavour. If we're being critical, they don't exactly pack a flavour punch, but they are gorgeous, abundant and brilliant for sugaring.
To sugar your primroses, whisk an egg white until well broken up and just frothy. Using a small (clean!) paint brush, paint the leaves of the primrose with a thin coating of egg white. Do the top of the petals first, then turn the flower over and do the bottom, using the stalk to hold it. You're after an even coating with no globs. Whilst the egg is still wet, sprinkle the petals with caster sugar making sure every bit is covered. Chop the stalk off and place them on a silicone sheet to dry. Or, for a super-pro finish, stretch parchment paper over a bowl and secure with an elastic band. Poke little holes in the parchment and sit each flower stalk in the hole. This stops the petals creasing as they dry - it's all in the details. Leave at room temperature to harden then store in a tuppaware until needed. They keep, at best, for 36 hours.
Top of my list of edible Spring flowers are kale flowers. Yes, kale. No, this isn't another tastes-vile-but-hair-shirt-foodies-claim-it's-both-incredibly-good-for-you-and-delicious ingredient like wheatgrass. Bleh. They really are tasty.
I left my kale plants in the ground when they started flowering in around March. (For kale geeks, you can see what I cooked with that kale glut here and here) They sent up great long flowering stems and produced the little yellow flowers common to all brassicas. I initially intended to do this to give the Spring bees something to feed on since there's not much else to go at flower-wise in April. However, I remembered that, during my time at River Cottage, we had used the flowers as garnish. So the bees can find something else to tide them over because these flowers are my lunch now.
The stems have a sweet slightly bitter flavour similar to raw broccoli which I can only describe, unhelpfully, as brassica-y. And the flowers are sweet with nectar giving them a lovely sweet but savoury feel.
A poor man's asparagus in my view.
To that end, I suggest serving them with a simple vinaigrette as an ever so ladylike pre-dinner snack. Yes, I know, it's not very filling. But if you can't be whimsical when cooking with Spring flowers, then when can you be?
Kale Flowers in Vinaigrette
- ½ heaped tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ tbsp cider vinegar
- Scant ½ tsp runny honey
- 1 ½ tbsp really top notch olive oil
- Pinch sea salt
- Flowering kale stems
Spoon the mustard, cider vinegar and honey into a small bowl and whisk it together. Slowly pour in the olive oil whisking as you go to create a thick emulsified sauce. Season with a little salt, but just a touch.
Take the flowers off the bottom of the kale stems and chop off any woody bits. Lay the flower stems out on a suitably fancy platter and drizzle over the dressing. Serve, preferably in a tea dress.