5.11.12 Day of the Locust
Venice was perfection. I'm so excited to tell you all about it, but I'm still organizing photos and sifting through my impressions. Please check back next week to read about the restaurants, the markets, the parties and the romance of one of the world's most glorious cities. We returned home to a word in full flower. I had been hoping to see some black locust trees in bloom this year, as I have read about the wonderfully fragrant edible flowers, and suddenly there they were by the dozens as we drove through Paramus, New Jersey, en route from the airport. Serendipity!
Equipped with the pair of garden shears I keep in the car for just such encounters, I gathered armfuls of branches festooned with flowers and swooned at their delicate perfume, akin to the sweet scent of orange blossoms. Robinia pseudoacacia is a tree related to the pea family, believe it or not and, as with other leguminous plants, its leaves fold together in wet weather and at night. It's a native species with dark, deeply furrowed bark and wood prized for being extremely hard. You'll often see it planted alongside streets and in parks, especially in large cities, because it tolerates pollution well. The long clusters of white blossoms hang down, sort of reminiscent of wisteria. The flowers are pea-like and creamy with a yellow spot on the upper petal. If this spot is bright yellow, the flowers are good to eat; if it is dull or faded, they are too old. Eaten raw, they taste a bit like pea shoots. They can be tossed with cream for a decadent pasta sauce or divine ice cream, or folded into a sweet batter and fried for the most ethereal fritter ever.
Since I am on a post-Venice juice fast, I decided to forego all of the above and use my blossoms in a light elixir made with lemon juice, water and a little orange blossom honey. It's spring in a glass.
The Eastern redbud outside our kitchen window is an early bloomer. The petals fall down and create a rosy carpet that looks like something out of a fairytale.
Someone told me that the flowers make good eating when they are fresh and full of nectar. I imagine this is what the wood sprites subsist on.
Or maybe they're eating these tender beauties. I must have spent an hour collecting this bowlful of wild violets in a nearby field. They are as soft as a baby's eyelids.
Candied violets were a popular delicacy during Victorian times. They're also delicious fresh, tossed into a salad or garnishing a panna cotta.
I made a syrup with my violets, steeping the flowers overnight and then mixing the strained liquid with simple syrup and a splash of lemon juice. The color is lovely and there's a floral hint, but I think any heat really masks their delicate aroma and flavor (though Winnie seems to have had good luck making violet jelly). If you've never eaten flowers, I suggest this be the year you nibble on some rose petals, toss a couple of dandelions in your salad, make nasturtium butter or at least slurp a little sweet nectar.