Flower Power

To commemorate the first day of the growing season, I served a salad with roasted spring beets, ripe pears, mixed greens, goat cheese and almonds garnished with a single pansy from my garden.

Zak and I made dinner for his parents tonight; he had to show off his new bread-baking skills, so I planned and made a meal around his spiced boule.

My first course was a salad of seasonal greens, roasted beets, anjou pears, strong, pepper-encrusted goat cheese and almonds with a very basic (four ingredients) balsamic vinaigrette. It is a simple salad, which I presented in an artistic composition on a plate. What made it special was the garnish of a single homegrown pansy blossom.

Flowers in or on food evoke strong reactions.

The first time I served my daughter, Morganna, a Thai red curry garnished with nasturtium blossoms, she recoiled and put the flowers to the side of the plate and utterly refused to eat them. “That is just too weird, Mom,” she declared as Zak and I scarfed ours down and then gobbled hers up, too.

At our housewarming party for our first home, my father curled his lip at the melange of greens, fruits and flower petals in the salad bowl, and gingerly picked his salad so that it was free of daylilies and roses. He only tasted one at the insistence of Zak’s grandfather’s ladyfriend who prevailed upon her age and charm to shame my Dad into trying something new.

But it was obvious to me that he didn’t like it.

Zak’s parents had no such reticence to the pansies on the salad tonight. Tessa noted that it had been a long time since they had eaten flowers, while Karl popped his in his mouth and said that it tasted better than nasturtiums and went well with the beets. He also insisted, when I was photographing the salads before serving them, that I photograph his plate, “because it is the prettiest.” So, now you know–the illustration above is a salad just minutes before being consumed by my father-in-law, the fearless gourmand.

I wonder why flowers disturb some diners so much. Is it because they are so pretty we hate to destroy them by eating them? If that is the case, then icing roses would never be snitched from birthday cakes, and no one would ever touch a gem-like fruit tart.

Is it because the colors are so vibrant, and are often ones which we do not associate with food? Perhaps that is part of it; I know that my father has problems with my propensity for eating and serving foods that while naturally colored, are not what most Americans think of as normal. Like cornbread made from blue cornmeal, or fully ripe but naturally green Green Zebra tomatoes. Or, worse yet, blue potatoes, which look quite unnaturally lavender in hue when mashed.

Is it a culinary taboo? Is it because we are warned against eating flowers as children, because so many of the lovely things are poisonous. Daffodils and hyacinths, though they look and smell divine, are poisonous, though they are not nearly as lethal as the lovely aconite and digitalis.

Is it because flowers are tokens that still have strong meanings for us? They are offerings we give to symbolize love at weddings and funerals. They once were offerings we gave to the gods–do we see them as something that we mere mortals should not eat because we are not worthy to consume such beauty as if it were simply another foodstuff?

For whatever reason, flowers have power, not just in the garden or our psyches, but on our plates, too.

And it felt pretty good to serve a single flower on each salad to my family on April 15th, which here in Ohio, is the official first day of the growing season.

And if you are interested, here is the recipe for the vinaigrette–which isn’t so much a recipe as a guideline: Use one part good balsamic vinegar to three parts good olive oil. Add wildflower honey and aged tamari soy sauce to taste. Shake to combine, and serve. This salad dressing is good with any combination of greens, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, though I particularly like it with roasted beets, pears and good strong, creamy goat cheese.


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  1. I think I may have developed my caution over eating flowers from sampling a few garden varieties as a kid, and find them nasty. The roses in my mom’s garden did not match up to what I dreamed a rose petal sandwich would taste like (inspiration from reading “The Borrowers”).

    Now I know better, of course. Bring them on!


    Comment by Amy — April 16, 2005 #

  2. Your salad sounds wonderful, Barbara. I love beet salad with goat cheese – something we only relatively recently discovered. And of course, with the pansie, it really looks beautiful.

    I love to garnish with flowers as well and have often noticed that some people just assume that the flower is for decoration only and carefully set it to the sides of their plates. Others cautiously try the flowers. And others just happily eat them.

    I once made the mistake of garnishing with whole chive blossoms and did NOT caution unsuspecting guests that the chive flowers should be eaten floweret by floweret. One fellow popped the whole blossom in his mouth and was rather surprised at the heat. Luckily, he was good humoured about it.

    One of the things I’ve noticed about pansies is that they have a very delicate flavour that can be easily lost. Or is it just my northern pansies that don’t get enough sun?

    Nasturtiums are my personal favourites because they have so much flavour and that delightful punch that is reminiscent of horseradish.

    Have you ever eaten day lilies?


    P.S. please forgive the verbosity!

    Comment by ejm — April 17, 2005 #

  3. Hey, Amy!

    Rose is one of my favorite flavors; I make cookies with rosewater flavored icing, and I will use rosewater in conjunction with various fruits, particularly strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.

    The flavors in the salad were such that the pansy flavor was easily noticed. They are fairly delicate in flavor, though, especially when compared to nasturtiums, which I adore and use all summer long.

    Yes, I have used daylily petals in salads, along with nasturtium and roses. I have not yet made daylily fritters, though considering the amount of daylily plants I see coming up in my new yard, I feel that fritters may well be in my future!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — April 18, 2005 #

  4. I’ve had commercially made rose petal jam but hadn’t really thought about using the rose petals from our old rose. And also had rosewater in Indian food. It only blooms once in early summer. I’ll try to remember! Is it better to use the petals or the whole flower? (Our rose looks like a wild rose – flat faced)

    That’s very odd. I’ve never really been able to taste anything with pansies or day lilies. They have a lovely sweet scent but not much flavour to speak of. I find the same with zucchini blossoms. (Yikes! Maybe my tastebuds are dead!)


    Comment by ejm — April 18, 2005 #

  5. I doubt your tastebuds are dead, Elizabeth; pansies and day lilies just have very subtle, faint flavors.

    For all that I have had sinus and allergy problems my entire life, my sense of smell is very strong, and my palate is fairly developed. That, and I have made a hobby out of discerning what ingredients go into various dishes by ferreting them out by taste and scent. Even with Indian food, I am able to do this, so it is not surprising I can taste lots of different very faint flavors that are more scents than anything.

    To me, pansies have a very light, pleasant floral scent; to many people, they have no scent at all. But every time I go near my windowboxes which are full of pansies in order to deadhead them, a whisper of the scent of violets wafts up from them on the slightest breeze. It is very nice, though most folks think I am nuts when I say that they smell good.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — April 18, 2005 #

  6. I agree that pansies have a lovely scent – sweet and ever so slightly spicy. I too can distinguish flavours and scents (though perhaps not as well as you). It’s just the pansie flavour that eludes me. I think perhaps I have teamed pansies with food that overpowers them.

    The day lily flowers are more vegetal in aroma (as I recall – I’ll be better equipt to say in a few months. Our day lilies are only just now sprouting up after their hibernation.) But for me, equally tasteless. I will have to try them again on their own to see if I can’t locate their flavour so that I’ll be able to taste it still when eating other things.


    Comment by ejm — April 20, 2005 #

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