Category Archives: edible flowers

Elderflower Panna Cotta with Elderberry Syrup

I’m sure I don’t have to ask whether you put up quantities of elderflower cordial and elderberry syrup this year…right? I’ll confess that I skipped the berries—too much travel away from home this summer to make a jaunt to the far side of the mountains where the blue elderberry grows. Luckily I have a half-pint left over from last year, along with a good amount of the cordial.

The Brits have a fondness for elderflower desserts, in particular Elderflower Panna Cotta. Do a search online and you’ll find all these great recipes—in grams and milliliters. Believe me, I feel bad that I’m clueless about the metric system. I was part of that generation that started to switch over in school, for maybe a year, until Reagan was elected and put that communist conspiracy out to pasture.

So for all you New World Elderflower Panna Cotta lovers out there, here’s a recipe in good ol’ Americanese. Pay attention, it’s a toughie.

1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar*
1/4 oz granulated, unsweetened gelatine**
1/2 cup elderflower cordial
elderberry syrup (optional)

* I used regular granulated sugar. Ideally you would use finer baker’s sugar, known in the UK as caster sugar.

** My grocery didn’t have sheets of gelatine, so I bought a 1-oz box of four gelatine packets. The first time I made the Panna Cotta I used two packets, totaling a 1/2 oz of gelatine. The general consensus at home was that it was too firm and gelatinous, if that makes sense. The second time I cut the gelatine in half and the result was perfect.

1. Heat the cream in a saucepan until not quite boiling. DO NOT BOIL.

2. Slowly whisk in sugar, making sure it dissolves thoroughly. Next, slowly whisk in the gelatine, making sure that dissolves thoroughly as well. If you’re not careful it will clump and ruin the texture of your Panna Cotta.

3. Remove from heat and stir in elderflower cordial. The flavor of elderflower is delicate and easily cooked off if subject to excessive heat. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

4. Pour into ramekins, tea cups, or moulds and refrigerate for four hours or overnight. I lightly greased my ramekins with butter. To remove Panna Cotta, dip the ramekin in a bowl of hot water for a minute or two and run the tip of a sharp knife around the edge. Shake out Panna Cotta.

5. Serve with a spoonful of elderberry syrup drizzled over the top. Contrary to most of the images of Elderflower Panna Cotta you’ll see online, served in big round quivering portions, I like to slice it into wedges. Seems more appetizing that way, to me at least. Garnish with a mint leaf or berries.

With less gelatine this Panna Cotta has a smooth, silky, custardy texture. It’s so easy to make and so delicious that you’ll momentarily forget the stupidity of being stuck with cups and feet.

Wild Salsify

Foraging is not as foolproof as the blogosphere would sometimes have us believe, even when you have a solid handle on plant ID, habitat, and season. It’s not like browsing one’s way through wood and dale.

Take, for instance, this wild salsify I picked in Montana back in June. I figured I had the makings of an excellent side dish. I’d been meaning to try wild salsify for years, and here was a bunch of it growing next to the Bitterroot River. To my credit, I recognized the species, knew it was edible, and even had some recipe ideas in mind from past research. This seemed like a slam dunk. I dug up several roots and took them home.

I much prefer the other name by which I’ve known this pretty, non-native wildflower of dry slopes, road sides, and waste areas for the past 20 years: Johnny-go-to-bed-at-noon. Except in some places it’s Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. Or goat’s-beard. Or oysterplant. Oh well, what’s in a name.

This genus of dandelion-like plants in the Asteracea family is native to Eurasia. Here it’s a weed. We have a few species in the Pacific Northwest, including the western salsify pictured above (also called yellow salsify) Tragopogon dubiusYou can distinguish this species from the meadow salsify (Tragopogon pratensis) by its longer green bracts, which extend well past the yellow rays.

Johnny-go-to-bed-at-noon is an apt name. It opens its flowerhead in the morning and closes before the heat of day. When it goes to seed, it looks like a great, oversized dandelion—a temptation to any kid wandering past, much to the pleasure of this weedy plant, looking to spread its seed far and wide.
The most commonly eaten species of salsify is Tragopogon porrifolius, a purple-flowered variety which can be cultivated in gardens and is said to have been a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. I don’t see this one growing wild very often in my region. A closely related root vegetable is called black salsify, Scorzonera hispanica. The domesticated varieties are usually harvested in late fall through early spring.

Once I got the plants home, I found a recipe online that involved braising the peeled roots in water, lemon juice, and herbs before sautéing in olive oil and butter. But no amount of braising could have tenderized these gnarly specimens. Even peeled, they had a tough outer skin wrapped around a pithy interior. Yet that thin interior vein gave a tantalizing hint of the culinary might-have-been. It was soft, buttery, slightly nutty, a bit like artichoke heart. It was quite tasty, as a matter of fact. I sucked it out like marrow from a bone and pondered my next move. Try digging the plant at a different time of year? Look for the more widely used Tragopogon porrifolius?

Arthur Lee Jacobson, who is always an excellent source of Pacific Northwest botanical information, says he concentrates his salsify foraging efforts on the leaves rather than the roots. Maybe this was a hint. Next time I’ll look for the purple variety.  Such is the ongoing education of a forager. Failure rides shotgun with success, and experimentation is the order of the day.

Strawberry Shortcake with Elderflower Whipped Cream

These jaunty Independence Day colors seem appropriate for a July Fourth post—with a dash of green added to the red, white, and blue because we all know that true patriots are environmentalists trying to conserve the nation’s resources and wild places. Right?

The strawberries came from our garden, and Martha made the drop biscuits. My contribution was the elderflower bouquet. Though I picked it more than a week ago along the Wenatchee River near Leavenworth, there should still be some blue elderberry trees blooming in the upper canyons of Eastern Washington.

Elderflower is one of those special tastes of late spring and early summer, right up there with cherries and porcini mushrooms.  I put up several pints of elderflower syrup each year to use in cordials and desserts year-round. Most recipes that rely on the singular flavor of elderflower fall back on a pre-made syrup, but while the flowers are in bloom you might as well do a direct infusion.

The dessert pictured is my friend Jon Rowley’s recipe for Strawberry Shortcake, which appeared in Edible Seattle a couple years ago. We took it one notch higher with Elderflower Whipped Cream (plus an ample sprinkling of those delicate, star-shaped florets). To make your own, just immerse a dozen or so flowerheads in a bowl with a pint or two of heavy cream, either overnight or all day. Make sure you remove as much of the stem as possible, since most of the elderberry tree is toxic. Cover with plastic wrap. The cream should be suitably floral after several hours of infusion. Strain (you’ll need to give the soggy flowers a good squeeze), add a spoonful of sugar, and whip just before serving.

Happy July Fourth everyone.

Maple Blossom Fritters

Like squash blossoms, the racemes of bigleaf maple trees can be transformed into a surprising culinary confection. Does frying them up in batter and sprinkling with powdered sugar have anything to do with it? You decide.

The maples where I live are too far along now for harvest, but higher up in the Cascade foothills I found plenty that had just blossomed the other day. You want to get the racemes just as they emerge from the protective red sheath that guards them and the unfurling leaves. At that point the racemes will be compact and tightly clustered; as they blossom, the flower-clusters become large, elongated (several inches or more), and some of the older flowers will have cottony material inside. The newly emerged racemes are easier to work with and make a daintier presentation.

Picking bigleaf maple racemes can present a challenge. On bigger trees the blossoms will often hang tantalizingly out of reach. Look for smaller trees or trees growing on a slope—or nab the blossoms from a bridge or overpass.

The taste of bigleaf maple blossoms is subtle: slightly nutty with a hint of sweetness. I’ve used them in the past to make pesto. The most common use is for fritters. My recipe is adapted from Poppy chef Jerry Traunfeld’s, which can be found in Jennifer Hahn’s excellent wild food resource, Pacific Feast. I used less water for a slightly thicker batter. Even so, this batter is very tempura-like. It’s thin, drippy, and puffs up around the blossom upon hitting the hot oil. This makes for a light, chewy, beignet-like fritter that’s perfect for breakfast, as a dessert course, or, with the smaller blossoms, as an adornment to pudding or crème brûlée. As with beignets, it’s best to serve right away while hot and crispy.

2 – 4 cups blossoms
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp corn starch
2 cups ice water
vegetable oil
powdered sugar

1. Check blossoms for insects. Usually they’ll evacuate after their hiding place has been plucked.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and corn starch in a large bowl.

3. Stir in ice water.

4. Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a large saucepan on medium-high until a drop of water crackles and pops. Dredge blossoms in batter, allow excess to drip off, and carefully place in hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan. Fry until lightly browned all over. Remove to paper towels.

5. Serve immediately while hot with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Note: I discovered on this occasion that I’m allergic to the pollen of big-leaf maples. After a few minutes of working in the kitchen with the blossoms, I was sniffling and my eyes were a red, teary mess. The upside is that this solves a recently developing mystery for me.

Elderflower Syrup

My new bumper sticker: I brake for champagne cordials.

The other day while taking Hank and Holly on a mushroom odyssey I surprised a few drivers behind me in a curvy stretch of canyon by yanking my van off the road at speed and coming to a dusty stop in the dirt. A flat? Sudden engine trouble? Naw, I just happened to spy the creamy white flowers of a blue elderberry tree on the roadside.

The blue elderberry (Sambucus caerulea) is a prolific bloomer on the east slope of the Cascades where it inhabits canyons, hillsides, and farm country, often near water. River corridors are a good place to look for this variety up and down the West Coast. Other varieties are common across the continental U.S. and throughout much of the temperate and sub-tropical world.

Last year I made elderberry syrup. This year I wanted to catch the flowering so I could make an equally distinctive though more delicate concoction. The thick berry syrup goes great with yogurt and ice cream; the flower variety is perfect for a refreshing summer drink or, even better, to enliven a sparkling flute of prosecco.

Everyone has their own preferred method for making the syrup, but besides the addition of exotic ingredients the main difference is the time you allow the flowers to steep. I used Hank’s recipe as a guide, eschewing the citric acid (two lemons seemed plenty, and anyway I’d used up my stash of citric acid on Dandelion Wine earlier this spring) and, in a happy accident, steeped my flowers for five days instead of two or three. The extra time only strengthened the subtle flavor without having any funky side effects, though you might exercise caution in really hot locales.

Definitely use a cheese cloth when straining your liquid. It’s an unavoidable fact that little critters like to make their homes in eldflower clusters. The recipe below makes about a quart of syrup. I canned two half-pints and refrigerated the other pint. It will be interesting to see if the canning process had any effect on the delicate flavor.

20 large elderflower clusters
1 quart water
4 cups sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 2 lemons

1. Trim flowers into a large bowl and try to remove as much of the stem as possible (most of the elderberry tree other than the flowers and berries is toxic). Rolling the flowers between thumb and forefinger is a good way to separate stem from flower. Continue to pick through flower pile, removing as many little stems as possible.

2. Add lemon zest and juice to bowl.

3. Bring quart of water and sugar to boil, stirring to make sure sugar is well dissolved.

4. Pour liquid over flower and lemon mixture. Stir.

5. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and allow elderflowers to steep for 5 days.

6. Strain through cheese cloth and fine mesh strainer. Refrigerate syrup or process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.


Third photo by

Sea Scallops with Maple Blossom Pesto, Morels & Asparagus

I missed the lowland blossoming of big-leaf maples, but now that it’s morel time in the foothills I get another crack at the floral, slightly sweet blossoms. Maple blossoms can be added to salads, sautéed, or even used to make pesto. I blended equal portions of maple blossom and fresh mint from the garden to make this simple pesto. The rest of the ingredients are standard. Adjust as you see fit. The amounts below make enough pesto for two.

Maple Blossom-Mint Pesto

1/4 cup maple blossoms
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/8 cup olive oil
scant 1/8 cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

For the rest of the meal you’ll need the following ingredients:

8 large sea scallops
several large morels, halved
1 dozen stalks of asparagus, trimmed
olive oil

1. Make pesto in food processor.
2. Saute morels and asparagus in butter and olive oil over medium heat, turning carefully with tongs, 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Season scallops with salt, pepper, and paprika. While morels and asparagus are cooking, saute scallops quickly in a separate pan with butter over medium-high heat. Finish with a splash of sherry. Allow sherry to cook off and make sure to get a crisp edge on the scallops.
4. Spread a dollop of pesto on each plate. Arrange scallops, asparagus, and morels over pesto with a garnish of chives.

Serves 2.

After plating the meal, the scallops will slowly release their juices, mixing with the pesto to create a colorful sauce. The touch of sherry goes well with the pesto’s hint of floral sweetness, and this in turn is balanced nicely by the earthiness of the asparagus and especially the morels.

In Bloom

There’s a low-elevation trail I’ve been walking every couple weeks since early February. Even though I got hailed on briefly yesterday, the succession of new spring growth was a comfort. I found trilliums (Trillium ovatum) in full bloom. Also known—aptly—as wake robin, the trillium is one of the first splashy wildflowers of spring. A few were even starting to turn pink, as they do late in the bloom, sometimes even reaching a deep purple before fading. On the east side of the mountains the trilliums generally coincide with the first flush of morels; being on the west side, I didn’t hold my breath.

Along a boggy section of trail the skunk cabbages (Lysichitum americanum) had grown up considerably since my last visit. According to the U.S. Forest Service, skunk cabbage “is edible but has a concentration of crystals of calcium oxalate which can produce a stinging, burning sensation in the mouth when chewed raw.” Native Americans roasted and dried its roots.

Nearby another early wildflower, the Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), was just coming into bloom. In the treetops above a purple finch sang its warbling tune while waves of ruby-crowned kinglets came through, calling to each other. White-crowned sparrows and violet-green swallows have returned, too.

At the end of the trail I saw this jaunty red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Despite its visual appeal, the berries of this shrub are not considered choice.

Before leaving I picked a few petals of the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) to add flair to a salad of spring greens from our garden. The Rubus genus includes raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, cloudberries, and others, most of which are famously edible.

Oh, and btw, it’s manly to dig flowers. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

p.s. I also saw another interesting plant that I’ll get to tomorrow…