Monday, June 23, 2008

Eat Your Flowers

A couple of days ago I mentioned collecting some celery pollen from the garden, and a few readers wanted to know more about it.
Actually, I'm harvesting the flowers of celery plants; I haven't quite gone as far as knocking off the pollen by itself.
The celery plants are all done being celery, but as they try to bolt into seed-bearing fornicators (all plants really want to do is reproduce themselves; we humans just like eating their young), the flowering tops have developed into tender, feathery, delicious morsels.
Why don't we think about eating vegetable flowers more?
I almost ripped out the bed of celery after the stalks got woody and inedible, but I had an idea: What if I let it go to seed, and then I'd have home-grown celery seeds? Cool!
Well, the seeds haven't appeared yet, but I needed something celery-ish the other day. I bit into a tiny green bud, and it was amazing. The flavor is celery, to be sure, but a little less crazy. (The celery I grew over the winter was shockingly intense-tasting.)
So far we have incorporated celery blossoms into stock, minestrone, tuna salad, and (of course) Bloody Marys. You just trim off the flowers, and voilà, instant mirepoix.
Aha, you say. Mirepoix includes onions and carrots, non?
Mais oui. Which gives me the opportunity to talk about onion flowers. (We are not growing carrots yet.)
Onion flowers! OMG, they are tender and oniony, but a bit less gaseous than true onion bulbs. In other words, perfect. In fact, not all my onions performed perfectly underground, but this floral crop more than makes up for it.
My only concern now is using up the celery and onion flowers as soon as I can, or figuring out a way to preserve them. I am drying some in the sun, and it seems fine. I may also try a quick blanch in boiling water, then into plastic bags in the freezer.
What other flowers should I be eating? I know about squash blossoms, rosemary flowers and nasturtiums. I also gather wild fennel pollen once in a while. Candied violets, roses, johnny jump-ups. Lavender, now and then. (And I'm trying to forget about the petal-strewn salads at Chez Panisse in the '80s, though they were pretty.)


Dagny said...

Now I want to stop at Berkeley Bowl to pick up some squash blossoms. So tasty in quesadillas and soup.

Era said...

In our garden this spring we were eating calendula flowers (only the petals, no doubt part of that Chez Panisse thing you are trying to avoid). We also ate pansies, which are tedious to prepare, but yummy. There's also borage flowers, and I bet cilantro flowers would have the same effect as celery (cilantro-y, but less so?).

Kalyn said...

Such an interesting idea, and I'm kind of a celery freak, and I especially love celery seeds, so I bet I'd love this.

Still loving the fennel pollen!

el said...

See, I am telling you other gardening people say there's nothing interesting to look at in a veg garden and I tell them they ain't looking hard enough. Eat your view, indeed.

Borage was mentioned, calendula too; I have them in the veg garden because they self-seed so readily. I eat the blossoms of all the cabbage-y things I have: broccoli to kale to bok choy, if it goes to seed (and it will) the flowers are lovely. Oh and pea shoots and blossoms. So many other plants emit a touche-pas stank (lettuce, tomatoes, beans) to protect their flowers/seeds from the likes of us that it's something of a game, isn't it?

Celery seed is something we Chicagoans sprinkle on our all-beef hotdogs.

michelle @ TNS said...

i can't imagine what "shocking intense" celery would be like.

i have some other failed/neglected plants going to flower, i wonder if they'd be as tasty?

Anita said...

we have blossoms on nearly everything: thyme, oregano, fennel, and cilantro... the latter are gorgeous. I'll nibble some and let you know.

Zoomie said...

As you're nibbling, be a little bit careful how much you try the first time. Many flowers have medicinal properties (such as foxglove) whose side-effects you might not want. There are books about edible plants and I'll bet there's info on the web about such things. My botany prof said so!

culinarily challenged said...

Maybe too obvious to mention, but chive flowers are edible.

Anita said...

Obviously someone at the Murky News is stalking you:

re: Zoomie -- I thought that all vegetables' and culinary herbs' blossoms were edible?

Zoomie said...

re: Anita, the problem is that many plants that are edible look a lot like ones that are poisonous or medicinal and unless you're a plant taxonomist, it's easy to get into trouble. That's why I cautioned to eat just a little at first and see if there's a reaction before plunging in. The article you sent the link for said the same thing - try a little, first.

Rev. Biggles said...

"Why don't we think about eating vegetable flowers more?"

You weren't talking to me, huh?


cookiecrumb said...

Dagny: I'm ashamed to say I've never cooked squash blossoms. Scared of all that hot oil, I guess, though Sean at Hedonia used them in a beautiful torte.

Era: That's right; thank you. I've eaten marigold blossoms. I'm kinda excited all of a sudden.

Kalyn: Eat your celery blossoms while they're soft and green, before the seeds develop. (But let some of them turn into seeds, for heaven's sake... for later.)
I'm thrilled you like the fennel.

El: It's so beautiful, I'm sure that's half the reason I couldn't rip them out of the ground. The eggplant flowers are purple, BTW, but I can't pick them because the eggplants haven't appeared yet. Also, tomato flowers? Yegghh. ("touche-pas"; very good.)
However. I LRVVV Chicago dogs. We fake them here at home with non-genuine relish (not green enough) and un-sport peppers.

Michelle: Imagine celery flavor doubled. Almost tongue-burning.
And... Try a taste of your flowers!

Anita: Funny thing about herbs. Deer won't eat them. I would totally try the flowers. I've never had luck growing cilantro, so I want a report.

Zoomie: Since foxglove (aka belladonna or digitalis) is medicinal, not a vegetable, I wouldn't be snacking on any! I appreciate your word of caution.

C Challenged: Yes! Major merci.

Anita: Oh, god, another one of those "scary" moments. I'm so glad I hadn't already read that story, or my post probably wouldn't have gone up.

Biggles: They don't make meat flowers. Yet.

kudzu said...

Just used Greek oregano from my yard in a white bean salad yesterday (with bitty cherry tomatoes, also bitty capers, cubed mozz, etc.) and sprinkled oregano blossoms across the top. Most people at the party to which I toted it avoided the flowers. Fools.

I've never tasted a tomato blossom or eggplant, feeling anything in the nightshade family is well worth respecting from a distance.

dancingmorganmouse said...

Lavender shortbread is nice and Lavender is great with garlic on a roasted bit of lamb.
Have you ever sucked the nectar from a honeysuckle blossom? Lovely, but leave some for the bees!

Nikki said...

I know nothing of edible flowers except nasturtium, violets, and rose petals. I am jealous of you all. I have learned more in the past 4 minutes than I have in the past month.

kudzu said...

dancingmorganmouse: Yes to the honeysuckle, a childhood commonplace experience. And drinking water (dew or from a watering hose) from daffodils. Sounds pretty fey, but true -- like sucking on violet leaves and johnny-jump-ups. What innocence and what really powerful taste memories.

Dagny said...

Just a little correction, if you don't mind. Foxglove is the source of digitalis and the source of a few deaths in Agatha Christie novels -- the leaves, not the flowers. Belladonna is the source of atropine -- as in the stuff they use to dilate your eyes at the optometrist's office. Really pretty flowers though.

And I'm with Kudzu. Belladonna is a member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and eggplants. Knowing the poisonous properties of belladonna flowers when ingested, but they are really pretty flowers, I would probably also avoid the flowers of other members of the family. In the case of belladonna, it only takes a minute amount to cause death. Then again the other name for belladonna is deadly nightshade so maybe it was created to set it apart from the other nightshades.

Heather said...

I'm so glad you went with the celery pollen/flowers. They're good, yeah? I love my parsley flower vinaigrette, and rosemary flowers sprinkled on risotto. I picked the flowers off my mustard when it bolted, but they smelled a bit strong. Probably best for salads or barbecue beans.

Stacie said...

I liked those 80s flower salads!! I am now growing a patch of cilantro for the seeds, and thinking about munching the flower to see what happens!

Chilebrown said...

We used the Celery Pollen in a chicken salad. It was yummy,yummy for my tummy. Thanks

namastenancy said...

Part of my heritage is Lebanese and I know that my great-aunts used to use rose petals in all sorts of summer salads as well as use them to make jam. Of course, that 's a long way from your celery seeds and Marin County flower garden but the principle is the same.
Viva the flowers! Pretty to look at and even better (sometimes) to eat!

Rev. Biggles said...


Uh, do a search on google for bacon rosettes. Check out the #1 place.

No meat flowers? Ha!


FaustianBargain said...

if you like the taste of celery, you'll like lovage(leaves) tastes somewhat celery'ish. i am trying to get acquainted with western herbalism and i find that a lot of herbs are medicinal too.

calendula will colour your dish nicely. and of course, dandelion, borage and sunflowers are also good for you.

this isnt with the flowers, but for a real kicker, try making catnip pesto(sub 1/2 basil with fresh catnip leaves)..seriously.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: I'd have to say I might understand people skipping the flowers. Out of fear and ignorance. But, yes, fools.

Morgan: Your honeysuckle memory immediately sucked me into my childhood (as it did for Kudzu).

Nikki: You already know quite a lot, and now your eyes are opened to more experiences! Don't be jealous, silly. Go forage.

Dagny: Apologies. I mushed them all together. But yeah, don't eat 'em.

Heather: Yow, another fellow celery flower eater! Yay. I've always wanted to try mustard flowers; picnic food sounds perfect for them.

Stacie: My dad gave me a jar of coriander seeds he "accidentally" allowed to happen. They're awesome.

ChileBrown: Hooray! I was hoping you would, but didn't want to pressure you. Sweet.

NamasteNancy: I'm in the middle of a love affair with rose petals. More on that later.

Biggles: You are right; I am wrong. You are the winner; I am the loser.
I want bacon rosettes.

F Bargain: First of all, I know about lovage but have never tasted it. Sad. Second -- Catnip pesto? OMG. Must try. Thank you.
Oh, and third, I didn't know you could eat the flowers of dandelions; I only knew about the leaves.
Well, I knew about the unblossomed buds for wine... Cool!

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