For the first time in my adult life, I have a little garden. It’s close to the size of a postage stamp, but it’s a garden nevertheless.
This ownership of land and soil now has my farmer’s grandaughter’s heart aglow with generational pride. For 10 years previously, I pottered around on condo patios, fussing over herbs and flowers grown in ceramic pots and cedar troughs. But with a husband who is also a chef, there was, and still is, a caveat. If I am to take up space that could otherwise be planted with basil, he says, my flowers must be edible.
Fair enough. Purple garnishes are otherwise hard to come by. And edible flowers fit that niche as though they’ve always been considered a grocery item.
Edible, however, is hardly synonymous with food.
With the exception of nasturtiums, which have a peppery taste, and lavender, which tastes much like it smells, edible flowers are not a new grouping on the Canada Food Guide. They’re eye candy. Mostly tasteless little wisps of whimsy for an otherwise all-green salad or dressed down slice of pound cake.
Without a vitamin, antioxidant or anything else known to recommend them (other than their looks), the adage about colourful foods being good for the body doesn’t really hold up here. They’re not like blueberries. They’re not even considered a source of fibre.
On the other hand, edible flowers do for a dish exactly what they do in the garden, or cut and arranged in a vase. They pretty things up, adding a smattering of unexpected colour or a special touch when serving someone’s favourite dessert.
A case in point is this Grapefruit-Glazed Pound Cake. It’s the perfect blank-looking-but-beautiful-tasting canvas to embellish with a few favourite flowers, plucked fresh from the garden.
And while the lavender in my yard is ready to be ice creamed, the poundcake on my countertop needs only for me to pop the heads off a few pansies and invite someone over to tea.
Grapefruit-Glazed Pound Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups cake flour, sifted
5 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbs grapefruit zest
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tbs freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Butter and flour an 8-cup loaf pan. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and flavourings. Gradually whisk sugar into eggs. Add egg/sugar mixture to butter, 1 tbs at a time, beating until light and fluffy; 3 to 4 minutes.
Add flour in three parts, mixing on low and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake until cake pulls away from sides of pan; 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely before glazing.
Using an electric mixer, beat together grapefruit juice and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Mixture should flow easily, but not be too runny (add more sugar if necessary). With cake on cooling rack, set over a baking tray to catch run-off, pour glaze over cake, letting it drizzle down the sides. Allow glaze to set.
Angelica, apple, bee balm, borage, carnation, citrus (orange and lemon), daylily (not tiger lily), English daisy, gladiolus, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle, impations, lavender, lilac, marigold, nasturtium, pansy, petunia, primrose, rose, snapdragon, sunflower, tulip, violet. (For all but miniature flowers – i.e. pansies and individual lilacs – remove pistils, stamens and stems, which may be bitter or cause allergic reactions).
Edible flower varieties can be found in plant nurseries, but whether buying or growing, be sure the flowers haven’t been treated with anything you wouldn’t spray on the rest of your edible garden.
– Story and photo by Darcie Hossack