Please Pass the Marigolds

Tea sandwiches with edible flowers.

I catered a spring afternoon garden tea last week for an art exhibit titled “A Garden Muse” at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia. My menu was inspired by Artist Cindy Dyer’s exhibit of breathtaking botanical photography. View her exhibit here and you will see why I was so inspired. Her work is nature at its best and I wanted my food to be worthy of such an exhibit.

I went to see the exhibit before I decided on the menu and I was glad I did. After taking in her macro images of flowers, my first instinct was to use edible flowers, but what did I know about them? I know one thing I want to share right up front: NOT ALL FLOWERS ARE EDIBLE. In fact, some are poisonous. Don’t assume if a dish in a restaurant is garnished with a flower that the flower is edible. Do not purchase flowers to eat from florists or roadside stands; grow them yourself or buy them from a reputable horticultural vendor. They have to be grown without any pesticides and in a perfectly-Ph-balanced soil.

Enough scare tactics. I purchased my edible flowers from Gourmet Sweet Botanicals. They were fresh, gorgeous and most of all, safe to eat. I chose the Premium Flowers Mix. The description on their website read: “Elegant assortment of edible flowers with full array of colors; fragrant, colorful, and versatile; an extraordinary garnish for any entree or dessert; create beautiful presentations on multiple dishes with this amazing collection!”

This sounded exactly what I was looking for. They were not exaggerating in their description. The box was sent by FedEx, packed with three small ice packs, and included, but was not limited to, the following flowers:

Marigold

I’ll prove it to you that you can eat these!

These familiar flowers are common in flower beds because their blooms are vibrant yellow, orange, and red. Who would have known they have a citrus flavor? In a bold move to prove to a guest that the flowers were, indeed, edible, I popped a marigold in my mouth, chewed, and swallowed. I rather liked its zing. And, I did this all without wincing.

zucchini bread with white crysthansamum and blackberries

Nasturtium

“Jethro, fetch me some salt…these fleurs are so dang peppery they need a little.”

These red, yellow and orange flowers were tasty and “peppery” and worked well with the tea sandwiches.

Orchid

“Please, darling, would you be so kind to pass me another orchid while I sit here and look pretty?”

Nibbling on these, bright pinkish-purple flowers with their mildly sweet crunch gives one a sense of exquisiteness.

Stuffed cucumbers adorned with edible flowers

Pansy

“Oh don’t be a pansy, eat a pansy, would ya!”

These ubiquitous spring annuals are a spectacular combination of colors: purple, blue, yellow, orange, lavender, and violet. These silky flowers (which they added to my purchase as a free sample) were surprisingly bland which was safe for those timid souls wondering if they should really take a tea sandwich. Any flavor the pansies had were masked with Alouette cheese. Pansies will always be on my must-have list.

Viola

“Viola, dear, could you float a viola on top of my gin and tonic? I’ll be waiting by the pool.”

Their purple with yellow and blue hues was striking. They had a mild taste with a hint of tartness. Gourmet Sweet Botanicals says they are fantastic on cheesecakes, desserts and salads, or floating on drinks.

Snapdragon

“Mom! Don’t blog about these. They are terrible!”

These unusually-shaped flowers have a bitter-tart flavor much like radicchio. Their odd shape added dimension to the tea sandwiches. Our 12-year-old son wanted to try one when they arrived. He created a lot of drama around the tasting. Well, he won’t eat radicchio either.

Rose

I hate being upstaged.

They sent small rose blossoms but it was the one big, fat rose in the middle of the package that made me laugh. I had visions of chomping on it at the end of the day, leaning in the corner with a glass of wine while others looked at me like I was a nut-case. (Kind of like Daryl Hannah in Splash when she ate the lobster whole, shell and all.)

Roses are 95 percent water and, therefore, low in calories. Thank goodness because something had to be low calories that day! They also contain Vitamin C and fibers, so eat up. I didn’t get to eat the rose but one bold man was caught on camera chomping down. (Drat! Upstaged by a rose-eating man!)

Michael S. chomps on the rose.

Artist Palette Open-Faced Tea Sammies

Since I was preparing an afternoon garden tea for a botanical photography exhibit, I thought about tea sandwiches, but they couldn’t be ordinary. How about a piece of bread being the palette for various spreads, herbs and flowers?

I used flower-shaped cookie cutters to cut dense bread for the open-faced tea sandwiches. Two different spreads – cream cheese softened with milk and chopped chives, and a spreadable Alouette cheese — served as the next layer. Then, I topped the “palette” with the flowers on some and red and yellow peppers and herbs on the others.

Use flower-shaped cookie cutters for the tea-sandwich bread.

Since Gourmet Sweet Botanicals were so generous in their quantities, I had plenty of extra blooms to create my garden of food. What more can I say? Let the pictures tell it all. Something tells me I’ll be playing around with edible flowers again and again and again. Until I blog about more of the menu items, enjoy the show.

Photos by Cindy Dyer.