Today we’re going to talk about eating flowers.
Yes, flowers as food.
I once had a big-time New York editor say to me: Why should I care about how flowers are grown, anyway? After all, we don’t eat them!
As a response to that challenge, I wish I had been able to pull out “Cooking with Flowers,” the most eye-satisfying book I’ve ever seen. It was created by Miche Bacher, an herbalist, chef, and founder of the custom confectionary studio Mali B Sweets.
To WIN a free copy of “Cooking with Flowers,” courtesy of Quirk Books, listen to to my interview with Miche and make a comment below about the best edible flower tip you learned. I will draw a winner at random on Tuesday, October 22nd at 5 p.m. Pacific.
I learned about this beautiful cookbook from Mari Malcolm, an editor at Amazon who absolutely loves “Cooking with Flowers.” Mari showed me the book’s beautiful cover on her phone screen during a lunch we had together this past spring.
I keep ordering this delectable book and then giving it away as a gift to my flower lover-friends. And now, it is my great pleasure to spend this episode of Slow Flowers in a floral-focused conversation with Miche.
In her introduction, Miche writes:
“Flowers add color, complexity, and what I like to call the magical ‘what’s in it’ factor to your food. They are full of nutrients and often offer health benefits, too. You don’t have to be a master gardener or a trained chef to cook with flowers – once you start looking, you’ll realize edible blossoms are all around you, and it really is a breeze to use them.”
She is definitely a chef whose work begins in the garden. Through “Cooking with Flowers,” I’ve gained new inspiration for another important reason to appreciate local flowers.
I know you will learn much from my conversation with Miche, as we discuss her favorite culinary ingredients, including the lowly dandelion.
Here are some links we discussed in the interview:
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center LINK to Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products:
Click here for MORE about COOKING WITH FLOWERS, including exclusive recipes that Miche couldn’t fit into the book. You’ll also find bonus recipes for the medicinal and cosmetic use of flowers, salves, oils, and teas for healing; download recipe cards and read a Q&A with this talented woman.
CORRECTED AUDIO INCLUDED HERE~
Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua, is a Brooklyn floral designer who has planted her own flower farm (Episode 110)
I first learned about Sarah Ryhanen when I read an article about The Little Flower School of Brooklyn, a venture she had created with fellow floral designer Nicolette Owen of Nicolette Camille Floral. The article was in none other than the New York Times, in which the writer proclaimed the renaissance of old-fashioned floral design for modern-era crafters.
Reading that article was like a huge floral flag being waved in front of my eyes.
Right on! The floral world I was so fascinated with documenting for The 50 Mile Bouquet was in good hands with these young, passionate, talented, urban designers.
So like probably everyone else in the country, I started stalking Sarah through her web site and blog, and following Nicolette’s work through her web site and the lovely floral arrangements she created for Bringing Nature Home (Rizzoli, 2012), a book by photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo.
When I spent a few days in New York City last August, I contacted them to ask whether I could sit in on one of their workshops. The class was sold-out, of course, so I was just an observer. It was amazing to me that 12 persons (11 women and 1 man) gathered on a sweltering Saturday morning to create bowls of flowers in an un-airconditioned warehouse-studio in Brooklyn. There was so much excitement in the room, with a combination of newcomers and repeat students. People soaked up every word, concept and idea Sarah and Nicolette offered – and they were unabashedly proud of their own creations.
Every detail was attended to in advance, as you can see by the photos I took that day. Sarah and Nicolette shared about their own design processes, about the way they select floral ingredients, and how they prefer to use materials like pin frogs and chicken wire (rather than foam).
As the designs took shape, I had a bird’s eye view, perched in the tiny loft above the workshop. After students finished their arrangements, the women served them champagne and appetizers, like a fancy party. It’s no wonder these creative gatherings are so popular! It’s like going on an art retreat in the midst of your crazy, busy life. A moment in time that prompts anyone to feel more creative, more experimental, more artisitc.
When we met, one of the things Nicolette and Sarah and I discussed was the challenge of finding the flowers and botanicals they wanted and needed for special events, from weddings to workshops. Sarah told me that she and her partner Eric Famisan had recently purchased farmland in upstate New York, where they were in the early stages of planting a flower farm.
Since then, I’ve watched as The Farm at World’s End has evolved, through Sarah and Eric’s wonderfully-photographed blog and honest, heartfelt text.
Under a heading called “The Idea,” here’s what Sarah writes:
When the economy took a dive in 2008 we started to see a major loss in the NYC flower market. Loss of interesting product. The unusual, weedy, wild stuff that I was so into and that made my work unique. The trouble was that wholesalers had to be safe – the floral industry is one of the first to feel the blow of a weak economy. So wholesalers on the flower block of 28th street stuck to what they knew would sell; your South American hot house roses, ranunculus, lilies, peonies. Here’s a perfect example – pre 2008 you could buy Garden Valley Roses (fragile, exquisite but expensive heirloom roses) on the block.
Around that time I was starting to explore other outlets for material. We found local farms to supplement our market purchases (River Garden, Lebak, Added Value), and also started ordering product direct from the west coast – the promised land of flowers.
Still there was always something I could not locate. Auricula, campanula ”pantaloons”, black hellebores, unusual bearded iris…at Saipua we now spend hours and hours searching for the highest quality, most unusual flowers. Visiting flower farms and talking to growers is the best part of my job. You meet these crazy, passionate people and let me tell you – it’s contagious. Eventually you got to try growing yourself. So here we are.
On the flower block back in the city, the guys joke – when are you going to start selling us flowers? I try to explain to them (and to everyone who has not yet been to Worlds End) that it’s a slow process. That we’re years away from producing the opulent abundance that people envision when they hear “Flower Farm”. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not about quantity. I’m not in the business of hustling anymore. None of our work at Saipua will ever require thousands of stems. It will however require a brown iris. And by god, I’m going to grow it.
Fortunately for listeners of The Slow Flowers Podcast, I had a quick 36-hour layover in New York a few weeks ago, en route to my Italian writing retreat. It coincided with a late afternoon opportunity to sit at the kitchen table in Sarah’s Brooklyn apartment, just around the corner from Saipua’s studio. We talked about farming, flowers and collaboration. Please enjoy the conversation.
This morning at the villa, two friends went off for watercolor lessons with resident expat artist Liz Cochrane.
After walking down to Il Barrino for hot tea and a croissant, I came back totally determined to make a bouquet for our group’s last night together.
We have a dinner coming in from Allesandro, the local chef (Marty organized the menu, which includes Ribollita, a Tuscan soup; sliced pork with balsalmic vinegar; zucchini flan; and that popular italian desert, Apple Pie!)
The Flower Arrangers’ Guild of Tuscany commenced its first session.
This garden is in its waning moments of late summer-early autumn. But it does not disappoint. So much to work with and we judiciously snipped, without hurting or denuding a single plant.
I had spotted a copper urn, weathered and slightly dented, sitting on the floor in the Lemonaio (the garden room). It inspired my palette – faded, tarnished and of the moment.
Here are the ingredients I began with:
1. Scented pelargonium foliage
2. Papyrus stems from the water pond
3. Hydrangeas – two types
4. Roses – two types
5. Olives branches w/fruit
6. Marguerite daisy foliage
7. Rex begonia foliage
Mary Watson joined me in the garden, eager to make something beautiful. She made two adorable bouquets:
Maybe we’re onto something here!
It all started just before Labor Day weekend on August 30th, when my friend Kathleen Williford, special events manager for the Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers event, texted to tell me she had fractured the bottom of her fibula. “My ankle will not stop me,” she texted. But still, for a very active person, Kathleen felt sidelined. And I could tell she was discouraged.
“We should come up with a joint project,” I texted back. “How about a $10 challenge to find the perfect vintage vase online?”
“OK, you are on!,” she typed. “So we find the vase online, flowers local, $10 max.”
“A beautiful vase arrived today,” Kathleen texted. “I LOVE it!” I had sent her a vintage olive-green glass pedestal vase, just like one I own (and LOVE). Kathleen admitted to not really having much experience arranging in pedestal vases, however, she also admitted to being a sucker for colored glass anything.
“Just arrived! So lovely!,” I texted when the vase Kathleen ordered for me arrived. The slender porcelain vessel was embellished with a gold filigree design. And it had this imprint on the base: “Made in occupied Japan,” which I think means it was manufactured during the American occupation of Japan after World War II, from 1947 to 1952.
Yesterday we both posted our respective vases on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, letting people know about the #friendlyflowers challenge. One of my friends saw the photo of the vase Kathleen sent me and she commented: “It’s so gypsy euro retro-ish!” — love that description.
Today, September 10th, Kathleen and I posted our designs. Here is mine:
Ingredients include all the goodies I was able to glean while gardening this week:
Here’s the vase I sent Kathleen:
Here’s the bouquet from Kathleen, using flowers from her parents’ garden:
If you like this idea, we encourage you to start your own #friendlyflowers challenge. The rules are easy:
1. $10 maximum vase budget
2. Send a vase to your friend and have him/her do the same for you
3. Fill it with #americangrown #slowflowers – all local
4. Post and share to inspire other friendly flower lovers!
© Debra Prinzing, all written and photographic content. Website design/development by Willo Bellwood/Metric Media