This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2004, issue of CAPPER'S.
Fruit trees have been a staple of the edible landscape for centuries. Who can deny the satisfaction gained from slicing into a cherry pie made from fruit growing in the backyard, or opening a jar of apple butter that was made from the first crop of a new apple tree? Even a trip to the timber can stock the pantry with native fruits, such as pawpaws and persimmons, if you're lucky enough to beat the raccoons to them. Yet, only a small percentage of us have room in the garden for a fruit tree or native plant.
Walnuts, pecans, chestnuts and hickory nuts are ones that we can grow to delight our appetites. But these trees, too, require room in the garden that most of us don't have. Even the American filbert, which produces a nice-tasting nut from a plant characterized as a large shrub, would be too large for many gardens.
There isn't much that can be said that we don't already know about culinary delights that can be created from the harvest of the vegetable garden. The same goes for the tastes and aromas from herb gardens. But we all have room in the garden to bring color and taste to the table with flowers.
There are numerous annual and perennial flowers that can be used to enhance the flavor of a particular dish, or as a garnish to liven up a ho-hum meal. Even if you're a meat-and-potatoes person like I am, why not wake up a dish with a few petals of your favorite rose?
Some common annual flowers that can be used in the kitchen include calendula, African marigold, signet marigold, nasturtium, viola and pansy. I'd also add tuberous begonia, gladiolus and tulip to my list of annuals, although they are perennial plants in other gardening areas. Imagine a fresh spinach salad straight from the garden, topped with a few red petals from a tuberous begonia. Or how about a devil's food cake with white frosting, dotted with three or four burgundy pansy blooms.
A few of the most common perennial flowers that can be included in a menu are chives, dianthus, day lilies, bee balm and roses. Others include redbud, lilac and Rose of Sharon. Picture these flowers fitting into your meal plans. I can almost taste redbud blooms sprinkled on a salad. And the lavender flowers of a chive plant quartered and placed on a baked potato or salad would lend an excellent taste, as well as eye appeal, to two of my favorite foods.
There are many books about edible flowers. Once you know which flowers are edible, and you can identify those plants, it comes down to personal taste - flavor or garnish.
Different varieties of flowers will have different flavors. If you look at the thousands of roses that are available, with different levels of fragrance, one may have a sweet taste while the next is bitter.
No, I won't be able to supplement my diet with flowers I bring in from the garden, but run-of-the-mill scrambled eggs will taste like quiche when topped with a few red dianthus blooms this spring.