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Flowers & Sugar

Nobody wants to talk about their failures. Except for teachers. They want to tell you everything they've done wrong so that you can learn even more from it. When they describe the shortcomings in great detail, when you feel as though you've been through the up and down, you learn better.

It's true. Getting something wrong helps us to remember how to get it right.

Creating a truly candied, sugared violet is tedious work. Buying them will run you $20 for 6 little violets. Larger flowers like pansies are 10 for $24, but neither of those includes shipping.

I've done it. I've made the tedious brush strokes, carefully dipped and dried the tiny violet petals. But I'm a home cook, and while I think the decoration is important, I'd prefer it to be a little easier. I failed on a LOT of violets. Miserably oversoaked the petals, clumps of sugar everywhere, and a final product that was sticky, grayish and not at all what I had imagined. Candied flowers really need to be large, flat petals like pansies or hibiscus to get the bang for your buck, and those products won't make you want to cry nearly as much at the end.

Flower sugar, on the other hand, is quite easy, and it will provide a layer of flavor and aroma instead of just preservation. Two main ways to do it:

  • 1) Blend sugar and flowers in a general weight ratio of 2:1. Spread the mixture on a silicone mat to dry. After a few days, regrind the sugar. Add a bit of cornstarch to prevent caking.

  • 2) Layer lots of sugar and a few fragrant flowers in a container. Shake daily for 3-7 days to disperse the aroma until the sugar has your desired strength. Add a bit of cornstarch to prevent caking.

The first option will give you color and is best for flowers that do not have a strong scent but taste good. Keep in mind that without an additive the color might change upon drying. Violets will be a pale lavender gray, pink magnolia will be pale pink, etc, and the flavor will be powerful. Wood sorrel flowers, which don't have a strong aroma, are incredible like this. This sugar is for topping!

The second option is easier, but you really need a strongly scented flower such as lilac, roses, paulownia (empress tree), or magnolia Grandiflora (Southern magnolia). This sugar would be used as a flavoring agent much like rose water or vanilla.

This process of retaining flavors in pure sugar is always an exploration station in our Forage Connection: Bring Flowers to Your Pantry series. There are so many flavors to try in this world, and who knows, maybe its something that's already growing in your backyard that will become the flavor your desserts are known for.

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