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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