From April through June, the yard is heady with blooms. The currant bushes kick the whole thing off early, their small, bright-yellow blossoms bold with a potent sweet-spicy scent that drifts everywhere.
Soon, I’ve easily lost my school shoes, and my winter-numb feet find the new grass. I spend my days in a dream that only the spring sun makes, sniffing my way in a connect-the-dots from blossom to blossom through all the flowering phases: tulips and daffodils; crabapple, apple, plum and peach trees; roadside forsythia and quince. I wander, admiring and inhaling deeply, from the blooming Russian olive trees on the south side of the yard to the sweet lilac windbreak on the north.
It all comes to a heavenly peak in May, where I find my nose discerning the different “flavored” aromas of bearded iris (I imagine lemon in the pale yellow and grape in the deep purple) and the light citrus of the snowy mock orange. I bury my face in the perfumed fringe of large peony blooms. I pull a taste of honey-ripe nectar in a droplet from the stamen of a honeysuckle blossom.
There is so much, it must be shared. With sharp kitchen knives, we slit crosses in the plastic lids of coffee cans to fashion tin-can bouquets to take to the cemetery, and just before Memorial Day, my mother, sister and I gather from the array of flowers in the yard and put the arrangements together from the sturdiest blooms.
Of these, my mother’s peonies, deeply fragrant and ranging in shades from white-ish-pink to dark wine, take center stage in bouquets that are accented with the ruffles of her old-fashioned rose, sprays of the mock orange, stems of bearded iris, tufts of lilac and sometimes strands of honeysuckle and purple sprigs of blooming sage.
The coffee cans, dressed up with aluminum foil, are half-filled with water, loaded in boxes and, along with an extra gallon of water and a spade or shovel, taken on the trip to Humboldt Cemetery, where they are sturdied by partially burying them next to the headstones of people I don’t know, but always remember. A final drink of water is splashed into the cans to keep the flower tokens from our little corner of the world fresh for as long as possible.
“I paint the flowers so they will not die,” the artist Frida Kahlo said. Memories of the childhood flora that both soothed and dazzled me can do that, too. But in my own way, still hoping to keep the flowers fresh and alive, I have taken thousands of photographs of blooms I find, where I now live and wander, gathering their images from gardens, fields and along roadsides, posting a different one each day on my social media pages, It’s so easy to take pictures of flowers. They do all the work, as they always have; I just bear witness to the natural artistry, my head always turned bloom-ward.
Beyond their visual and aromatic beauty, some flowers offer flavor, too. Floral notes bring interesting tastes into cooking and baking. I began my blog with a post about a birthday cake I made infused with rosewater and decorated with candied rose petals.
Edible flowers, like calendula, peppery nasturtium (great for pesto) and tart pansy, make colorful additions to tossed green salads. Chive blossoms add an oniony boost to savory dishes, too, and are pretty as a garnish on soups and other dishes. Zucchini blossoms, though limited in availability (unless you grow them), can be stuffed with soft cheese and fried.
The light flavor of dried chamomile adds an interesting flavor dimension to rice or baked goods, like tea cookies. It pairs well with apple dishes, too. Dried hibiscus makes a delicious steeped tea, but can also bring tarty taste to sauces and marinades, jams and jellies.
I’ve used the subtle, but effective herbal flavor of lavender buds to make everything from shortbread (see recipe shared here), lemonade and even ice cream. It’s important to remember that with lavender, along with any flowers one is using for edibles, to use a culinary/food grade version that has not been treated with any chemicals and is pesticide-free.
Orange blossom water, found online or in some supermarkets or specialty food stores, has a delicate flavor, but a little goes a long way in providing a nice little floral lift to desserts, like rice pudding, as well as some sweeter bread recipes. It is also recommended for salad dressings and even adding to fruit salads or smoothies.
Roses are definitely on the stronger side in flavor and perfume-y aspects (not to everyone’s taste), but I have loved using rosewater to make Turkish delight (a gummy-style candy), Pavlova and jams. Dried rose petals (food grade) can also be used in vanilla cakes, quick breads and the shortbread recipe shared here. Candied petals (purchased or made by brushing flowers with reconstituted powdered egg whites, sprinkling with superfine sugar and allowing to air-dry at least 12 hours), from roses to violets, also make great cake or cupcake toppers, so the beauty — and taste — of a bouquet can be found in every bite. KCL
Rebecca Howard grew up in Kansas and has written for the Los Angeles Daily
News, the Los Angeles Times and LA Parent Magazine, and currently writes the food blog, “A Woman Sconed.”
Lavender Shortbread Recipe