Green Plate Special: Flower power in the plate (and in the glass)
In her memoir, ‘Finding Freedom,’ chef Erin French credits the time she spent as a teenager working in the kitchen of her father’s restaurant in Waldo County as fundamental to her development as a cook. . There she learned how to grill burgers until perfectly pink, how to cook eggs the way a customer wanted them, and how to expertly dip, sprinkle and fry delicate whole clams. Practice makes perfect, after all.
Even on this fast-paced food production line, she took the time to garnish the daily specials with nasturtium flowers she picked from her mother’s garden. The bright yet delicate orange, pink, red and yellow flowers are pretty to look at and spicy to eat.
The plates French now serves at his beloved restaurant, The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, often feature edible seasonal flowers. I didn’t have the pleasure of eating there, but I saw plenty of pictures. Additionally, in his 2017 cookbook of the same name, lemon balm blossoms, calendula, elderflowers, hibiscus, lavender, lilacs, marigolds, pansies, and roses featured prominently as main ingredients and optional toppings.
“I love using edible flowers…as a garnish or tossing them into salads. They are as delicious as they are beautiful,” writes French. To name just a few flower flavors: purple borage tastes like cucumber, snapdragons are floral but have bitter undertones, calendula petals are tart, while marigold petals have citrus and spice notes. .
Brunswick private chef and caterer Ali Waks Adams says edible flowers also add texture and dimension to a plate of food. If you have blooming thyme or rosemary or if your basil plants have bloomed, sprinkling the flowers over dishes containing these same herbs helps create a layered flavor profile.
What struck me about the restaurant’s nasturtiums, however, was that the young Frenchman instinctively added a bit of cheerful whimsy to everyday plates. Edible flowers don’t need to be reserved for special occasions. In Maine, in the summer, you can add colorful whimsy to your life and your plate, three times a day.
If you have a garden, adding edible flowers to your plates is as easy as cutting a few flowers while you pick lettuce for the salad or herbs to season your main course. All edible flowers support local pollinators. The ones you can buy from a growing number of local farmers who bring them to market help support the local food economy. Some farmers produce edible flowers on purpose and sell them for 30 to 50 cents each, while others offer them as income-generating side products that grow from existing crops – think chives and squash flowers, kale and dill that has become a seed. .
Flower growers Ryan Ravenscroft and Courtney Mongell of Mare Brook Farm in Brunswick have been growing edible flowers this season and selling them to a handful of area chefs to gauge the public’s appetite for them. The couple recently received organic certification from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) to grow them in larger quantities on a half-acre lot for the 2023 season.
Mongell says they first learned how to grow, eat, store and preserve edible flowers in D. & P. Gamp’s “Edible Flowers and Leaves.” But to quickly find out which flowers in your garden are good to eat, she suggests checking out Johnny’s Selected Seeds Organic Edible Flower Collection. For edible wildflowers, I recommend the book “Wild Food: a Complete Guide for Foragers” by British foraging expert Roger Phillips or, more locally, the website from Kennebunkport-based forager Josh Fecteau.
Once you have the flowers in the kitchen, there are many ways to use them. Freeze more vigorous flowers like calendula in ice cubes to keep a summer drink pleasantly cold. Do as the French do, and first dip the chive blossoms (or daylilies) in a light batter, then in hot oil and serve the fried blossoms as an appetizer with a chive aioli. Tuck the nasturtiums into summer rolls wrapped in rice paper. Bake marigold petals or whole marigolds in savory shortbread. You can sweeten pretty pansies, but if you don’t want to go through that process, layer whole pressed pansies on sugar cookies while they’re hot, and the heat will melt the petals on them. Or you can whip dried or fresh petals into compound butter to top grilled meats, fish and vegetables. Check out Saco pastry chef Gabrielle Cobe’s Instagram (@bigfish_cakestudio) for some amazing ways to decorate a summer cake with them.
Do your part to spread the botanical fantasy one plate at a time.
Local food advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a sustainable food column in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her cookbook from 2017. She can be contacted at: [email protected]
Floral Savory Shortbreads
Yields 18 to 20 pieces
1 ¼ cups sifted Maine Grains whole wheat flour
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, thyme, dill or rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Whole herbs and gem marigolds pressed to layer on the dough
Combine flour, cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and 1 teaspoon warm water and pulse the ingredients until they form a crumbly mixture. Roll out the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and use your hands to roll it into a smooth disc. Film the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough to ¼ inch thickness. Spread the whole herbs and flowers over the dough, leaving about 2 inches between them. Use a rolling pin to press the herbs directly into the dough. Use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out circles around each herb or flower. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheet. Pull the remaining dough into a ball and repeat the process until all the dough is used up.
Bake the shortbread cookies until they just start to turn pale golden around the edges, 10 to 13 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer the shortbread cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. The shortbread will keep well in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
Green Plate Special: Seize the day! Eat your tomatoes all over the place as they ripen
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