Although flowers have been used in cooking for generations, there is a renewed interest in them over the past few years.
A few of the most common flowers used in Ireland are viola, rose, and nasturtium.
At this time of year, nasturtium are overflowing from flower pots and window boxes, once you know that they have not been sprayed with any chemicals and are clean, they are perfectly safe to eat.
The leaves can be used in salads and have a slight pepperiness to them.
The flower has a more subtle flavour, but still packs a bit of a punch, they have beautiful orange or yellow petals that have a softness almost like the wings of a butterfly.
The blossoms do need to be used quite quickly after picking, as the colour fades on the petals and they loose their wonderful hue.
Crystalising flowers will help to preserve them for longer.
Crystalised or candied flowers can last for a few months and are excellent for decorating cakes.
We often use fresh flowers to decorate desserts in The Cake Café but by crystalising them we are guaranteed that they will not wilt over the course of the day.
It is also quite relaxing, slowly painting each leaf.
The final result is quite subtle, each flower looks like it is covered in a layer of winter frost, a soft white coating on each petal.
Clover, calendula, lavender, marigolds, and borage are all perfectly edible and have their own unique tastes.
Lavender works well for flavouring sugar, which can be dusted over a sponge cake or used to make a syrup for a homemade lemonade.
Many herbs also produce flowers, these tend to have a slightly milder flavour than the leaf of the plant. Chive flowers for example have a subtle hint of the onion flavour that is more commonly associated with the stems of the plant.
Many fruit and vegetable suppliers now stock small packets of edible flowers. I would never use flowers from a traditional florist as these are almost always sprayed with preservatives and insecticides.
The safest way of knowing a flower is safe to eat is to either grow them yourself of get ones that are clearly marked edible.
Frozen yogurt is a good alternative to ice cream, this is a basic recipe here, you can add some mashed berries or other flavours quite easily.
A handful of raspberries stirred through just before placing into the freezer give a colourful ripple effect.
SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
Whisk the sugar and yogurt until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Add the lemon zest and salt and mix them through.
Place the bowl into the fridge for an hour.
If you have an ice cream maker use it according to its instructions.
If you do not have an ice cream maker spoon the chilled mixture into a box with a lid and freeze for an hour and a half until it is beginning to solidify.
Then remove from the freezer and beat with a fork or whisk to break up the solid pieces, then refreeze and repeat twice more before allowing to freeze undisturbed for at least an hour.
Remove from the freezer a few minutes before serving to allow to soften.
Serve with flower petals sprinkled on top and with a drizzle of elderflower syrup.
Stir together the egg white and water.
Lay the petal or flower that you are using onto a baking tray or chopping board.
Carefully brush the egg mixture onto the petals, lightly coating both sides.
Make sure to coat the flower very well as any gaps will allow air into the flower and it will go off.
In another bowl, toss the petals with the sugar and transfer to a rack or some baking parchment.
Allow the petals to dry at least six hours, longer if necessary.
The petals and flowers store for up to three months, they can be used to decorate cakes or sweets.
Place them lightly between layers of tissue in an air tight container.
QUICK MID-WEEK MEALS
Toast the bread and spread the soft goats cheese on it.
Place back under the grill until the cheese has melted.
Drizzle with the honey and seasoning.
Sprinkle with thyme, flowers and the seeds.
Toss the parsley, mint, rocket and shaved fennel in the dressing and serve on the side.
Put the pasta on to boil in lightly salted water and drain when cooked.
In a large pan heat the oil and sauté the onion until it is translucent.
Add the garlic and courgette slices and sauté until the courgettes are starting to turn golden.
Add the anchovies, chilli flakes and nutmeg to the vegetables.
Stir in the courgette flowers until they have softened. Season to taste
Stir the pasta into the pan making sure to mix it will with the other ingredients.
Stir in the parmesan and serve with a drizzle of good olive oil.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved