Diana Henry’s new ways to cook with flow­ers

They’ve long been used to add a heady per­fume and sweet­ness to recipes – here, Diana shares new sweet and savoury recipes us­ing a va­ri­ety of flow­ers

BBC Good Food - - Inside - Pho­to­graphs MAJA SMEND

Ihave a scent ad­dic­tion. Some of the friend­ships I’ve made on so­cial me­dia – es­pe­cially with those liv­ing in other coun­tries – have been built on this shared pas­sion. I stum­bled into a net­work of per­fume lovers one day – in that strange rab­bit-down-a-hole way that is Twit­ter – and, as this net­work ex­panded, I re­alised that nearly ev­ery­one was also into food. That scent and food lovers over­lap shouldn’t sur­prise: smell and taste are great sen­sual plea­sures, and if you’re tuned into one, chances are you’ll be tuned into the other.

I was in­trigued by the idea of us­ing flow­ers in cook­ing when I was young. At a school fête, I be­came in­tox­i­cated with a cake cov­ered in ivory-coloured ic­ing and show­ered with crys­tallised rose petals. This cake could have been made by Snow White, I thought. It was first prize in a raf­fle that I didn’t win. To ease my dis­ap­point­ment, my mother bought me a bot­tle of vi­o­let per­fume. If pur­ple had a scent, I con­cluded, it would smell like this. Flow­ers and flower waters in cook­ing have gone in and out of fash­ion. Ro­man cooks flavoured wine with roses and vi­o­lets. Flower waters were much used in Spain dur­ing the long pe­riod of Mus­lim oc­cu­pa­tion and in the cook­ing of me­dieval Eng­land, France and Italy. Sal­ads scat­tered with prim­roses, vi­o­lets, bor­age and daisies were served in the 15th cen­tury, and the fash­ion con­tin­ued through the Tu­dor and Stu­art pe­ri­ods. When I started to cook with flow­ers and flower waters, how­ever, it pro­voked a slight curl of the lip. It was deemed old-fash­ioned, sickly-sweet. I car­ried on re­gard­less, mak­ing laven­der syrup in which to poach apri­cots and adding or­ange blos­son wa­ter to mar­malade ice cream. Then, just as I started to write about food, Mid­dle East­ern cui­sine started to be­come pop­u­lar here and, grad­u­ally, flower waters be­came de­sir­able again – they seemed ex­cit­ing and new. Flower waters can be used in savoury as well as sweet dishes. A drop of or­ange blos­som wa­ter in a Moroc­can tagine of lamb and apri­cots gives a tan­talis­ing back­ground note that you can’t quite put your fin­ger on. Rose and or­ange blos­som waters have to be used care­fully, though – too much and your dish can taste soapy. And it’s a good idea to bal­ance them. Even to some­thing as sim­ple as a flower wa­ter-flavoured cream to serve with fruit, I add some lemon or lime juice to cut the per­fume just a lit­tle. Apart from the beauty they im­part, I find flow­ers so nice to cook with be­cause flo­ral smells can do the same thing as good poetry. Poetry deals with the un­sayable, the elu­sive – you want to pin its mean­ing down. Scents also cre­ate a sen­sa­tion that you want to cap­ture, but it can be fleet­ing (if a flower wa­ter has been used skil­fully, you may even think you’ve imag­ined its pres­ence). Not many in­gre­di­ents make for as sub­tle or as in­trigu­ing an ad­di­tion to a dish.

Good Food con­tribut­ing edi­tor Diana Henry is an award-win­ning food writer. Her new book, How to Eat a Peach (£25, Mitchell Bea­z­ley), is out now. @di­ana­hen­ry­food

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