Greenport chocolatier Miche Bacher's new book, "Cooking with Flowers" (Quirk, $24.95), comes out this week. Newsday talked to Bacher about picking, preparing and cooking with flowers.
When people think of flowers and food, they usually think of using them in salad or as a decoration. It's my mission to get people to see them as an ingredient in a dish, a delicious and healthful ingredient and not just a novelty.
Some are spicy, some are earthy, some are sweet with notes of mint, citrus or apple. Some flowers taste bitter, some taste like your grandmother's perfume. Flowers add complexity and color to food.
So how does the home cook get started?
You may already have flowers growing in pots in your yard that are good for cooking. If not, now is the time to go to the nursery. Before you pick anything and bring it into the kitchen, educate yourself about which flowers are, in fact, edible. Daffodils, for example, are not, while the tulips growing right next to them are. When in doubt, look it up. (A good source is tinyurl.com/prl4hz.)
Another option is foraging. Peterson's "Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants," available at Amazon.com, is a good guidebook. Pick a clean (and legal) spot. Resist the urge to stop by a field alongside a busy road. Roadside flowers will be covered with toxins from car exhaust.
And don't use flowers from a flower shop. Those blooms are most likely sprayed with pesticides not labeled for food crops. Instead, buy from trusted farm stands, where you can chat with the grower about your cooking plans.
How do you prepare the flowers?
Before cooking, take care to prepare edible flowers, washing them well and removing pistils and stamens, which hold the pollen.
Do cooks have to worry about possible allergic reactions, if they've never cooked with flowers before?
As when trying any new food, you should introduce flowers into your diet slowly. Some people who have hay fever, asthma or allergies may be allergic to flower petals as well.
For the novice, are herb flowers a good gateway into cooking with other kinds of flowers?
Absolutely. So many people are growing their own herbs. And then they think that when the herbs bolt and flower, that's it. But you're not done. Cut all those flowers and make pesto with them. You can do other things with herb flowers. I throw them into cookie dough, because I like a hint of savory in my sweets.
What do you do when fresh local flowers are unavailable?
You can use dried flowers. Lavender, in particular, is just as good dried as it is fresh. Hibiscus has more tart flavor when dried.
Say you have geraniums in your backyard, but no roses. Can you substitute one flower for another in your book's recipes?
For the most part, you can. But taste before you substitute, and substitute something with a similar flavor profile. As for geraniums and roses, yes, that substitution will work. So go for it.