Here’s what I don’t use my half of the fire escape of my Brooklyn apartment for: escaping fires. Nope, I use that precious four square feet to grow one of my favorite spring treats, which also happens to be the easiest way to dress up your simple spring fare: nasturtiums. The brightly colored, sweet, peppery and slightly fruity blossoms grow like weeds no matter how you neglect them, and along with other edible flowers, spring up on all kinds of cuisine as soon as the weather gets nice.
What’s great about edible flowers is, like fresh herbs, they each have their own flavors and textures. Some, like oregano blossoms, are crunchy and astringent. Not only do they look pretty stuck in the scoop of homemade tofu I had last night (pictured to your right), but they add a flavor note not found in any old leafy plant. Flavorful oils are concentrated in the bud portion, and released when you chew. Chive blossoms are another garnish I’ve noticed recently — the fluffy, artichoke-like purple flower needs to be plucked off the chive anyway to make sure the herb can grow unobstructed. They have a light onion flavor with just a hint of sweet pollen, and are really nice scattered over a goat cheese omelet.
Actually, most herbs sprout floral tips before they’re ready to pick. Rosemary, mint, savory and basil flowers are all powerfully aromatic and extremely tasty sprinkled over a simple pasta or egg dish, or even as a dessert garnish. Elderberry flowers are great on ice cream. If you grow your own broccoli, the flowers make a lightly sweet, pleasantly vegetal garnish or stir-fry element. And, as I noticed during my recent trip to India, it’s not frowned upon to stuff a whole marigold in your mouth, especially during wedding season. They’re saffrony and sweet (and good luck).
Squash blossoms, also known as zucchini flowers, are one of the more well-known uses of flower-eating. They’re typically snatched up by farmers market obsessives at 7AM, stuffed with homemade ricotta, lightly battered and fried. But they lack the pronounced floral/herbal flavor of other edible blooms and, in my humble opinion, are really more of a tasty party trick than a use of flowers in cuisine.
Hm. Maybe I should plant squash on the fire escape stairs. I mean, nobody’s using them.