Flower-power shortbread cookies are a joy to make and eat
You've probably heard that we eat with our eyes first. This adage is a nod to the fact that our food's shape, color and visible texture will influence our perception of how it tastes. It's why culinary students are taught about presentation and plating. Perhaps nothing elevates the visual appeal of a dish more than edible flowers, the eye candy of the cooking world.
Knowing how many common flowers and even weeds are edible may surprise you. But many more are toxic, so this isn't a place to experiment. Stick to those listed in the sidebar, or do your own research, and avoid any that have been sprayed with insecticides, fungicides or herbicides. Delicate flowers only get a rinse before eating, which isn't enough to remove the undesirable chemicals. The "green or fuzzy bits," aka the receptacle, stamen and pistil, are typically bitter, so try to remove them where they are large and easy to identify.
One particularly delightful way to enjoy edible flowers is in these shortbread cookies. They look fancy but are simple to make. The base cookie is infused with citrus, vanilla and mint flavors and is a buttery treat on its own. Pressing an array of edible blooms into them takes them to over-the-top adorable. The kids who made these were deep in concentration as they selected their flowers and "painted" on the egg wash. When cooking becomes creative play, I know we're doing something right. I was happy to see that the vivid colors of the flowers didn't fade or brown in the oven, resulting in a very pretty platter.
Most edible flowers have mild flavors, but some can be decidedly savory and taste odd in a sweet recipe like this. Nasturtium is peppery, borage tastes like cucumber and broccoli, and bean blossoms taste vegetal. We used rose, Johnny jump-ups, pansies, lavender, thyme and wild camomile here. They got a short spin in a small salad spinner gizmo and were placed into individual small bowls. Those acted like a painter's palette for our young cooks. If you don't have access to organically grown edible flowers, don't worry. Use sprigs of fresh herbs (mint, basil, thyme and lemon balm all work) and arrange them prettily on the cookies.
• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's website fhouseschool.com or the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edible flowers ready for decorating the cookies.
- Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Bachelor's Buttons (Cornflowers)
Herb flowers -- basil, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, mint, thyme
Nasturtium (leaves and flowers)
Pineapple Weed (Wild Camomile)
Scarlet runner beans
Squash blossoms (cut male flowers to avoid culling future squash)