Squash Blossoms

Originally published August 17, 2011.

A squash blossom, still on the plantIf any food can be described as ephemeral, it’s squash blossoms. They’re only around for a short while, and once picked they deteriorate rapidly, which is why you usually can’t get them at grocery stores, only farmers’ markets and neighbourhood gardens.

Squash plants actually produce two different types of flowers: male and female.  The male flowers grow on the end of long, slender stems.  The female flowers grow on thicker stems that buldge where they meet the flower.  This bulge is what will eventually become a squash.

Generally there are more male flowers than female.  The male flowers can be picked without affecting the production of fruit, so long as a few are left behind to pollinate the females.  Some sources say to remove the stamens from the interior of the male flowers before eating.  I don’t.  I hope it’s not a safety thing.  Picking the female flowers will prevent fruit from developing on that stem.  Even so, it’s worth picking a few females, especially once the buldge on the stem has grown into a tiny, malformed squash.

The flowers of both summer and winter squash are edible.  (Summer squash are varieties that are picked young, and therefore have tender, edible seeds and skin, like zucchinis and pattypans.  Winter squash are varieties that are mature when picked, and therefore have tough, inedible seeds and skin, like butternut squash and pumpkins.)

While they can be eaten raw, squash blossoms are usually lightly battered and fried.  They can also be stuffed.

Below are some blossoms from a zucchini plant.  The female flowers are distinguished by the tiny zucchinis attached to their bases.  The male flowers have their characteristic long, slender stem in tact.

In the final picture below the blossoms are filled with a homemade cottage cheese (something my ancestors would have called “clabbered milk”) mixed with green onions and a bit of lemon juice.  I used a piping bag to stuff the flowers.

The batter is just skim milk with flour and salt.  The flowers are lightly coated with the batter, then fried in canola oil at 350°F.  You can shallow fry in a straight-sided pan (just add enough oil to come about half way up the side of the flowers) or deep fry in a pot.  Once the batter is crisp and the interior hot, maybe one minute, remove the flowers to a bowl lined with paper towel.  Season and consume immediately.

August on a plate:

Male blossoms, and some female blossoms with the nascent sqash

Squash blossoms, filled with cottage cheese and onions, battered and fried

Sunflowers: A Failed Experiment

Sunflower headsWhen I was little I watched cartoons on Saturday mornings.

At one o’clock custody of the television passed to my mother, who watched Victory Garden, an American public television show that tours some of America’s greatest gardens.

I hated this show.

Now that I’m all growed up, I rather like it.  A couple years ago I was watching Victory Garden when they interviewed a chef from Boston who used sunflowers like artichokes.  I filed this idea in the deeper recesses of my brain until this summer, when I came into some sunflowers from Tipi Creek.

I pulled out the flower petals, then started cutting away the dark brown seed heads until I had something that looked sort of kind of a little bit like an artichoke:

A sunflower heart

 

As a controlled taste-test, I simmered this flower head in lightly salted water until tender.

The result was pretty gross.  A slightly slimey texture, an off-putting, floral taste (duh…)

If anyone out there knows how to prepare sunflower heads, I’m all ears.

Rose Water

Today I tried a nifty trick I saw on Alton Brown’s masterpiece show, Good Eats: making rose water at home.

The idea of eating my provincial flower excites me.  Unfortunately, our true wild roses have already lost their petals and developed hips.  There are, however, several late-blooming domestic varieties still flowering.

Wherever you get your roses from, make sure that they haven’t been treated with any chemicals.

Rose Water
adapted from Good Eats

Ingredients

  • 1 L rose petals, chemical free
  • 2 L water

The set-up is simple.  Start with a very large pot.  I used my canning pot.  Put a clean brick or heavy ceramic dish in the middle of the bottom.  Scatter the rose petals around the brick.  Add the water.  There should be enough that the flowers are more or less submerged.  Next put a stainless steel bowl that is slightly narrower than the canning pot onto the brick.  (The brick simply keeps the bowl above the boiling water and prevents it from floating around.)

Now invert the lid of the canning pot and cover the pot.  Put about 2 L of ice in the hollow of the lid.

Place the pot on medium heat and simmer for an hour.  The aroma and flavour of the rose petals is captured in the steam.  The steam rises to the top of the can, where it meets the cold lid and condenses back into water.  Because of the roughly conical shape of the inverted lid, the condensate rolls to the centre, where it drops into the expectant stainless steel bowl.

A diagram:

After an hour I had about two cups of rose water.  Be careful not to spill any of the melted ice into the stainless steel bowl when removing the inverted lid.

At this point I have no specific plans for the rose water, though I suspect it will make its way into some whipped cream shortly.

Candied Lilac

A special report from Button Soup’s Senior Backyard Correspondent, Lisa Zieminek

 

With Allan in Austria, I have been tasked with keeping him informed of what’s happening in our new yard, and documenting developments with copious photographs and notes.

A couple weeks ago, the several lilac trees scattered throughout our yard burst into full bloom, filling the air with sweet perfume.  Last year we learned that these flowers are edible.  The tiny flowers can be added to salads for a splash of color.  They can also be made into beautiful, delicate candies that last long after the blossoms have fallen from the trees and their sweet smell has left the air.  Rather than keeping the memories of spring with mere photographs, I decided to preserve a little piece of the season in candy form, to be enjoyed upon Allan’s return.

Candied Lilac

Ingredients

  • simple syrup (heat 2 parts sugar and 1 part water to 225°F, then cool to room temperature)
  • individual lilac flowers, stems removed
  • ultrafine sugar (sold as “berry sugar”)
  • patience – it’s a tedious job

Using tweezers, dip the lilac flowers in the simple syrup, shake off any excess liquid, then place them onto the ultrafine sugar.  Turn the flowers in the sugar to coat all sides, or sprinkle them with sugar to achieve the same effect.  Let the candied lilac dry overnight, then store in an airtight container.

The candied petals look like delicate crystals – they are a beautiful garnish for cupcakes or ice cream.  They have a crunchy texture and a sweet, floral taste.  (They are flowers, after all…)

-Lisa Zieminek, Sr. Backyard Correspondent