A crystallised primrose is not something you knock up in a hurry. The polar opposite of ‘bish bash bosh’ cooking this is delicate and painstaking, gentle and slightly prim. It is a task that requires a cup of Lady Grey tea, a calm mind and a Radio 4 afternoon play. Such crystallised flowers are a nonsense really, not there to fill you up and providing perhaps the tiniest trace of nutrients, but they do provide colour and a little magic, and link your food irrevocably to your garden.
Edible flowers are generally an easy bunch to grow. Primroses (which have a delicate and sweet taste), dianthus (pepper and clove) and violas (perfumed) are all perennials so will come back year after year without you lifting a finger, while nasturtium (strongly peppery), borage (cucumber) and pot marigolds (gentle pepper) are annuals and need sowing at the beginning of the year, though in reality they often pop up of their own accord from the previous year’s fallen seeds. One edible flower product that we all munch away on over Easter without a second thought is saffron: the dried stamens of an autumn blooming crocus perfectly adapted to British gardens, and used to flavour simnel cakes and Easter biscuits. Buy bulbs in mid-summer for planting in late summer, and you will be harvesting your own saffron this October.
All edible flowers can just be scattered onto a salad, but if you have the inclination do try the crystallising. Paint your chosen flowers with egg white and then sprinkle with caster sugar and leave to dry for a few hours. Alternatively try making an ice bowl. Take two bowls, one slightly larger than the other. Use a dab of egg white to attach each flower to the inside of the largest bowl, then place a few ice cubes in the base as buffers. Place the second bowl inside, weighting it down, and then pour water carefully into the gap between the two and freeze: a fairytale ice cream bowl. All of the smaller flowers are pretty in ice cubes. Half fill the ice cube tray with water then add your flowers and freeze before topping up and freezing again, this small palaver anchors the flower in the centre of the cube. You can then make summery punches and cold soups remarkable with the crack of an ice cube tray. However you use them, edible flowers are the ultimate way to imbue your food with seasonal prettiness, and well worth the small window of patience and calm it takes to make them shine.
Saffron and primrose Champagne cocktail
I made this cocktail this time last year and it is a very grown up coming together of Easter flavours and spring flowers, plus a perfectly seasonal pale gold colour. The sugar that coats the crystallised primroses gives the champagne an extra little burst of fizz as each flower is dropped in. All of the constituent parts are made before hand, so this is just an assembling job in front of guests, and a fun one too.
Generous pinch of saffron threads
250g granulated sugar
A handful of crystallised primroses (see above)
Champagne or other sparkling wine
First infuse the water with the saffron. Start this early: ideally you would leave the saffron to steep for around four hours for maximum flavour and colour, but make sure it has at least 20 minutes. Heat the water until boiled, leave to cool for about a minute and then gently mix in the saffron and step away. After the steeping time add the sugar and bring to the boil. Turn heat to low and stir continuously until the syrup is clear, usually just a couple of minutes. Allow to cool and then bottle. To make up the cocktail pour a dash of the syrup into the bottom of a champagne glass and top up with champagne then drop one or two of the crystallised flowers into the top of the glass.