Flowers on the menu
- Credit: Archant
Normally used to simply viewing plants for Devon Life, GILL HEAVENS gets to use her tastebuds too at a very special enterprise
If we held a survey on the merits of flowers I believe most people would extol their aesthetic appeal, praise their intoxicating fragrance and applaud their ability to brighten our gardens and homes. Few would say “they are very tasty”.
At Maddocks Farm Organics, however, Jan Billington and her husband Stuart are growing a variety of delicious flowers specifically for the table. This organically certified farm is located near Kentisbeare on the edge of the Blackdown Hills where the Billingtons first moved in 2002.
They started out supplying vegetable boxes but their business evolved with the passage of time and they gradually shifted to the present salad and edible flower enterprise. Jan says: “We started out small and we expanded as our knowledge expanded”. They have grown sufficiently so they now employ both seasonal and permanent staff growing not only edible flowers but also organic salad, made up of a variety of leaves, herbs and foraged fare.
Maddocks Farm Organics is no stranger to the glare of publicity. Jan has appeared on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, where Olympiad Christine Ohuruogu was tempted by cocktails spiced up with her lavender flowers. At the Chelsea Flower Show the presenters were led astray by alcoholic concoctions containing more of her floriferous offerings.
The variety of edible flowers is surprisingly wide ranging from the more obvious garlic flowers and pot marigolds to dahlias, gladioli and honeysuckle. At the farm the more robust of these flowers are grown outside in raised beds which lifts the plants above the heavy clay soil and allows them to be more easily protected. The winter produce and more delicate flowers are grown in unheated polytunnels protecting them from the worst of the weather.
Jan and Stuart’s aim is to grow their product as naturally as possible and all work is done on site; the produce is all grown, harvested, packed and despatched by hand. Nothing is mechanised. As Jan says the benefits to the consumer of this method are unarguable: “The product is really fresh and has not been bruised by the mechanics of machine picking”.
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There are many uses for edible flowers; in starters, main courses or desserts, in hot or cold drinks and to make oils and vinegars. Maddocks Farm Organics have put together mixes for specific purposes including a wedding cake box, a selection for crystallising and, for or those of you who need persuading, an introductory box with a selection for sweet and savoury use.
They also sell flower salads, a mix of leaves and edible flowers including hot and spicy nasturtiums, peppery rocket flowers and primroses. As well as selling via their online shop they supply shops and restaurants, both local and countrywide, including The Jack in the Green restaurant where Head Chef Matt Mason creates imaginative recipes using their flowers.
At the farm they have adversaries familiar to all gardeners - slugs, snails, flea beetles, aphids and cabbage white caterpillars, but they are steadfastly organic in their approach to pest control. Predators are actively encouraged to control these menaces including the introduction of rescued hedgehogs and the construction of a pond for frogs and toads between the polytunnels. They are attempting to take the term “organic” further than solely referring to chemical-free growing; they are doing this by being in tune with the seasons, the soil and their environment.
You could, of course, always grow your own flowers. Rachael Voaden at “The Edible Flower Shop” advocates just this and has a large selection of suitable seeds along with plentiful advice on her website. Jan and Rachael work closely, forwarding clients to each other, thus benefiting and complementing both businesses. Rachael is keen to encourage everyone to have a go even if space is limited and a garden is not always necessary. Planters, pots or window boxes make ideal mini flower gardens and growing your own is an ideal way to encourage children into the joys of gardening. These flowers are often fast growing, bright and cheerful and have the added benefit that you can eat them!
Please be careful, not all flowers are fit for human consumption and some may have been sprayed with noxious substances, so check before you try! Whether you eat yours at a fine restaurant, create feasts with bought mixes or grow your own, once you delve into the world of edible flowers mealtimes will never quite be the same again.
Lightly whisked egg white, which will preserve your flowers for a couple of days
Food grade Gum Arabic which will last for several weeks (available online or from good chemist)
White caster sugar, if possible blitzed in the food processor for a finer texture
A selection of edible flowers, for example rose petals, sweet violets, primroses and cornflowers
Paint the flower with the egg white or Gum Arabic, whichever is your preference, ensuring that you cover every nook and cranny.
Sprinkle over the sugar, being careful to cover the whole flower, and then shake off any excess.
Gently lay the sugared flower on a lined baking sheet.
After two hours drying you can repeat the process for a more candied product.
Leave somewhere warm and dry overnight
Once completely dry store carefully between sheets of baking parchment in an airtight container. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight as this will fade the blooms.
Use these beautiful sweet treats to decorate cakes, confectionary and desserts.
Research in the US has shown that peony flowers can help alleviate some of the side effects of chemotherapy.
When made into a tea carnation petals are believed to be a stress reliever and alleviate tiredness. Another stress buster is the snapdragon which will help you relax at the end of the day.
Chrysanthemum tea can be used to reduce fever and as a cold and flu remedy.
Chamomile tea is the peace bringer; it calms the emotions and is ideal for those who suffer from insomnia. Another flower to help you find serenity and sleep is the fragrant lavender.
Rose petals are very high in Vitamin C and can increase blood circulation; they also are thought to relieve depression.
Jasmine tea is good for digestive problems, calming stomach ulcers.
Hyssop, honeysuckle and sunflowers all make soothing gargles for sore throats. Hyssop is also good for lung problems and arthritis.
If you have internal parasites (and I hope that you don’t) then the flower for you is lilac, it also helps to reduce fever.