When I asked about the blushing squash blossoms delicately displayed on his table at the Clayton Farmer’s Market in St. Louis, Missouri, Tim Hess of Silent Oaks Farm surprisingly started talking about bees. With his hands and one blossom, he showed how the flowers open up in the very early hours of the morning, making room for the bees to fly in and buzz around.
Hence, picking squash blossoms may require heroic measures to free trapped bees—without getting stung, of course. Intrigued by the story and awed by the warrior tactics that are called upon to bring each squash blossom to market, I had to have some. But then, I asked, what do I do with them?
Tim’s wife Marcille said her favorite way of cooking squash blossoms is to stuff them with soft cheese, mushrooms, or breadcrumbs; dip them in egg and then in seasoned flour; and fry them in a pan. This was the inspiration for my own Squash Blossom Morning.
Squash Blossom Morning
(Makes 4 servings)
- 16 large squash blossoms
- Organic canola or sunflower oil for frying
- 1 bunch fresh basil for garnish
- 1 ½ cups flour seasoned
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 large farm eggs
- 1 cup herbed soft goat cheese
- ¼ teaspoon dried garlic
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons mushrooms, finely chopped (opt)
- 1 tablespoons fresh basil or parsley, minced
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish
- Delicately rinse squash blossoms, and set aside to dry.
- In bowl, sift together dry ingredients for coating. In separate bowl, whisk eggs.
- Prepare stuffing: Combine goat cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, mushrooms, and minced basil or parsley.
- Open blossoms and spoon ½–1 tablespoon of stuffing mixture into center of flowers. Pinch top of blossoms to close. (Note: Avoid overfilling.)
- Dip stuffed blossoms into whisked eggs, and coat in seasoned flour. Set aside.
- Heat oil in skillet. Carefully set blossoms into hot oil in a single layer. Cook until golden on all sides (about 3 minutes). Drain briefly on bakers rack over baking pan.
- To serve, garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Eat your vegetables—and flowers, too! Fry up a bouquet of edible squash blossoms for a spicy snack.
Fried Squash Blossoms
- 12 large squash blossoms, freshly picked (use male flowers with the single tubular stamen)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Combine batter ingredients. Heat 1/2 to 1 cup oil in a saucepan. Dip squash blossoms in batter until coated and fry in hot oil until golden brown, less than 1 minute. Drain on paper towel and serve warm.
Although you may never have considered eating flowers, you’ve probably been doing it all along and never realized. Popular vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes are all flowers. Capers, those tangy little green balls used in Mediterranean cooking, are actually the unripened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a prickly perennial plant. And the costly herb saffron, of course, comes from the stamens of a type of crocus. But many other flowers may be harvested for cooking as well, a surprising number of which may be growing in your garden right now.
Flowers can be tossed in salads, sauteed with vegetables, fried in fritters, combined with soft butter or cream cheese as a spread, and even frozen in ice cubes to add interest to cold drinks. Cooking with flowers was in vogue in Victorian times, and many chefs are returning to the practice.
But, before you bite into a big flower sandwich, a word of caution: Only use flowers that have been grown organically and have not been sprayed with pesticides. Never gather flowers for eating from the side of the highway or use flowers obtained from a greenhouse or nursery. They may be laced with harmful chemicals. Also, in most cases, use only flower petals. Discard the stamens before cooking.
Not all flowers are edible; some are poisonous, so check first. The following is a short list of eat and eat nots:
|Bergamot (Bee balm)
Some edible flowers have very mild flavor and are best used for enhancing the beauty of salads and other dishes. Many other flowers, however, have their own unique tastes that range from peppery to tangy, spicy, or minty.
|Squash and pumpkin blossoms are among the most widely used flowers in cooking. Not surprisingly, they have a mild raw-squash flavor. Try our recipe for Fried Squash Blossoms.
|Bee balm blossoms (as well as leaves) can be used in place of oregano. The red blossoms have a minty flavor.
|Clover blossoms have a sweet, licorice flavor.
|Dandelion blossoms, when picked young, are sweet and honey-like. The unopened buds are even better. Older, bigger blossoms are likely bitter.
|Daylily flavor has been compared to lettuce or melon, or a combination of asparagus and zucchini. Some say different colors have different flavors. Daylilies are the only kind of lilies that are edible. But don’t eat gobs of them. They can have a mild laxative or diuretic effect.
|Calendulas (marigolds) have been called “poor man’s saffron.” They range from spicy to tangy and peppery. Add them to soups, spreads, or scrambled eggs.
|The flowers of most edible herbs are also edible, including arugula, angelica, borage, chamomile, chervil, dill, fennel, sorrel, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme.
|Honeysuckle has a sweet honey-like flavor. But avoid the berries, which are poisonous.
|And, in case you should have a sudden hankering for pansies, bend the rules and eat the whole flower, not just the petals. The petals are quite mild, but using the whole flower adds a nuance of wintergreen in a salad.
|For a treat, mix lavender, violets, or rose petals in cake batter or cookie dough before baking.
How to Harvest
Grow the flowers from pesticide-free seeds. Spray only with homemade pest control using dish detergent and water.
Pick the flowers right before use or wrap them in moist paper towels. They will keep for one day in the refrigerator.
Inspect flowers for insects. Rinse them gently with water and allow to dry.