Blossoming into quite the pansyBobby R. Presents Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Growing up, every year for Mother’s Day I would go to the nursery with my grandmother and pick out potted flowers. There was a space reserved in the yard specifically for my mother and me to plant these gifts called, for lack of imagination as a toddler, her Mother’s Day garden.
The garden contained both annuals and perennials, any of which were chosen by me for their aesthetics alone. I look back fondly on this garden and recall that as I grew older, I became more aware of my choices and also ever more aware of my Mother’s unabashed love for these simple tokens from her son.
Recounting the varieties that were available early May in Massachusetts, it occurred to me that many of my colorful choices were ones that I see (and use) today as edible flowers: Johnny jump ups, marigolds, impatiens, chrysanthemums, geraniums, snapdragons, violets, and of course her gay son would also give pansies. Other edible flowers were present outside of the garden in the yard such as the lilac tree I used to make forts in, the squash blossoms in the garden, the apple blossoms in the orchard and the rose bushes my grandmother planted in the front of the house.
It wasn’t until my early 20s, 3,000 miles away from home, that I realized the abundance of, otherwise, underused flora at my disposal.
Of course there are a few flowers used regularly in the American diet that are probably overlooked, such as the chamomile flowers in herbal teas, the dried lavender contained in that bottle of “herbs de Provence” and (more specific to southern California) the hibiscus flowers used to make Jamaica. Also, there is that bottle of rose water in the back of your pantry, found in any supermarkets’ international isle, which you purchased for an endeavor you’re still unsure of.
But common now, too, is the small rectangular plastic package containing a variety of the edible flowers I had planted in my mum’s garden, tucked away to the far left of all the other pre-packaged herbs.
The most straight forward uses for the package of assorted flowers would be to toss into a light spring salad or use as a garnish on any of your dishes for color (especially dessert). But once you start to separate the package and identify its contents and do some internet research, more specific uses open up.
Dried flowers with strong flavors, such as the nasturtium, marigold and lavender, are wonderful for infusing simple syrups that can be added to cocktails or plain sparkling water. I also like to use these dried flowers to infuse desserts with a cream base, such as the recipe included or another of my all-time favorites, squash-blossom crème brûlée. More sturdy petals, such as the rose or violet, can be candied at home or purchased candied from specialty food shops.
The most important thing about purchasing and using edible flowers (fresh or dried) is they must be 100 percent organic. Flowers will hold pesticides in their petals that cannot be washed out, so be sure to ask the counter clerk, florist or farmer’s market vendor before making your selection.
Another good rule of thumb: never put anything on a plate that is not edible! This may seem a straight-forward tip, but I just wanted to put it out there; it should be assumed that anything put in front of me with a fork in hand will go into my mouth.
I miss my mother often and the garden we shared so long ago, but comforted with my memories every time I enjoy the edible flowers we had planted together. I’ll probably send her some inedible flowers to brighten up her New England day while I enjoy the warmth of our amazing climate. I encourage you to explore other uses for flowers, to call your mum, to have your cake and eat it with flowers too. bobby’s recipe
White chocolate lavender mousse with white pepper shortbread
This recipe serves about 10 people, but keeps well for up to a week, so can be used later or given to a friend (or your mother). The white pepper shortbread delivers a nice flavor and texture contrast but can be omitted for ease. Instead combine the mousse in layers with macerated fruit creating a lovely fool/trifle dessert.
For the mousse
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dried lavender
12 ounces white chocolate chips
1 package unflavored gelatin
6 tablespoons hot water
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
Bring the cream to a simmer with the lavender. Reduce the heat to just below the simmer and steep the lavender until the desired flavor strength has been reached (about seven minutes) then strain. Keep in mind that the flavor will be diluted once the recipe is finished.
In a metal bowl, pour the heated heavy cream over the white chocolate chips. Place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and stir occasionally until completely combined.
Dissolve the gelatin in the hot water. Stir in the dissolved gelatin to the chocolate mixture until combined.
As the chocolate mixture cools slightly, whip the heavy cream and confectioners sugar to a stiff peak.
Fold in 1/4 of the whipped cream to the tepid chocolate mix until combined. Very gently fold in the remainder of the whipped cream using a rubber spatula and an overhand motion so as to not deflate the whipped cream but incorporating fully.
The best way to distribute the mousse is to place in pastry bags before it is allowed to chill, but a storage bowl will do in a pinch and the mousse can be spooned out later.
Chill for at least four hours before serving.
For the shortbread
With a large fork or pastry blender combine:
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Blend in 1 cup sifted flower until just mixed.
Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper until 1/8 inch thick.
Remove the top sheet of parchment, prick generously with a fork, place the dough (still on the bottom parchment) on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. The shortbread is done when the edges are golden brown and the center is still slightly soft.
Using a cookie cutter or knife, cut the shortbread into the desired shapes but do not remove until completely cooled. The shortbread will be pretty fragile.
Place the shortbread on a plate and pipe or, using two spoons, shape the mousse as desired onto the shortbread. Decorate the dessert with fresh fruit and top with a drizzle of warmed honey.
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