Edible flowers and herbs have been used for flavour and garnish in cooking for hundreds of years. Early reports suggest that the Romans used flowers in cooking as did the Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. Nasturtiums are mentioned in Apicius, a cookbook from ancient Rome. Edible flowers were popular during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Before eating any flower there must be a positive identification, especially when foraging. Some flowers are truly toxic.
When seated at Table, it is said that the first bite is with the eye. Good cooks know that the taste of food is influenced by the presentation and visual appeal. A garnish is an item or substance used as a decoration or embellishment accompanying a prepared food dish or drink. In many cases it is selected specifically for the flavour it imparts as is the case with finely chopped chives, cracked black pepper or grated chocolate. Garnishes go beyond the sprig of parsley, bed of lettuce or slice of orange although all of these are often used in very artistic ways. Parsley is an example of a traditional garnish; this pungent green herb has small distinctly shaped leaves, firm stems, and is easy to trim into a garnish. Garnishes work wonders but they should complement the food on the plate and must be edible. Some garnishes are selected mainly to augment the visual stimulation of the plate. Trendy food garnishes are flowers and micro greens – micro greens are the shoots of salad vegetables such as rocket, celery, beetroot, etc., picked just after the first leaves have developed. They are basically many of the same leafy greens as are used for salad mixes but are cut at a smaller stage and only harvested once. They are eaten as thin, delicate plants, the smallest possible variation on salad greens and herbs.
There are myriads of ways to dress a plate – a wedge of lemon, chopped chives and diced tomatoes, salad leaves, fennel fronds, sprigs of rosemary, a sprinkling of dried or fresh coriander – dainty field flowers, a drizzle of raspberry coulis with a dusting of icing sugar or a selection of summer berries – all gathered from the garden. In Oriental cooking creative chefs often carve fruits and vegetables into flower shapes.
Flowers add romantic history to our food. They lend a charming, healthy and unusual dimension to our tables.
The photos, taken during my travels, depict plating and presentation with and without garnish. Which ones take your eye? (You may enjoy naming the countries represented)
For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
For faith in a world where many walk in fear;
For friends in a world where many walk alone;
We give you thanks, O Lord.