Recipes- Cooking with flowers, Sarah Riley

PUBLISHED: 17:05 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 20 February 2013

White wine vinegar steeped in viola or rose petals add a vivid dash of colour to salads.

White wine vinegar steeped in viola or rose petals add a vivid dash of colour to salads.

Sarah Riley is inspired by the flowers of summer.

Growing wild in meadows or around a cottage garden, flowers are the essence of a summers day in the countryside. Their striking colours, delicate markings and fragile petals are amongst natures finest offerings.
Since the 16th century flowers have been prized for their fragrance and flavour and were an essential part of daily life. At that time, large country homes had a special stillroom that would have been assigned for their preparation: a gently burning fire dried out the petals, before they were presented to the cook.
As far back as Roman times lavender was cultivated in large quantities for domestic consumption, and in the past decade a handful of lavender farms have again been planted across the country in response to the revived demand.

The enduring affinity between flowers and food was recorded by Hannah Glasse in her book The Art of Cookery published in 1747 which includes recipes for conserve of red rose and cowslip wine. Mrs Beeton recorded the Victorian fondness for floral scented puddings and the society florist Constance Spry, who founded the original cookery school Winkfield after the First World War, gives us the poetic recipe for rose petal water ice.
For culinary purposes, freshly opened flowers should be harvested on a warm dry day, ideally in the morning before the essential oils have been dried out by the sun. Plants that have been treated with pesticides or gathered from the roadside should not be used. Gently rinse the flower heads in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel, remove the central pollen-bearing stamens and pull out the petals one by one from the base. Those with a pollen allergy should avoid preparing or eating flowers.
The therapeutic benefits of plants have been appreciated since ancient times and today they have a role in modern health and wellbeing camomile tea is valued for its calming qualities, an infusion of mint flowers is soothing to the digestive system and rosemary has a stimulating effect on both mental and physical levels.
A tisane is the simplest way to savour the flavourful aromatics of flowers: pour boiling water over a few flower heads and leave to infuse for a couple of minutes. Indeed, the bergamot flowers in Earl Grey tea give its distinctive flavour.

An abundance of refreshing drinks can be created; the elder blossoms which appear in the hedgerows from May are used to make the quintessentially English and much loved elderflower cordial, as well as a wine and elderflower champagne too.
Floral oils and vinegars capture the essence of summer that can be enjoyed for the months to come. Viola vinegar, made by pouring white wine vinegar into a jar filled with viola petals and left to steep for a week or so, turns to an incredible vibrant blue. Rose petals,
carnations and cowslips can be used likewise; these vinegars can then enhance a favourite vinaigrette recipe or give a fragrant note to pickles and chutneys.
Similarly, floral oils can be prepared and enjoyed. Lavender that has been macerated in olive oil will give a fragrant lift when drizzled over roast chicken or bruschetta.
Floral butters are another deliciously easy way of introducing flowers onto the menu. These are prepared by mixing the petals of chive, sage or thyme blossoms in a small quantity of softened unsalted butter. They beautifully complement fish or vegetable dishes and can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.
Nasturtiums, marigold and borage flowers are traditionally used to decorate salads; however, try preserving the petals in an ice cube tray and serving with long summer drinks. For the more adventurous, a floral ice bowl can be created, giving a stunning centre piece for the summer dining table.
The art of crystallising flower petals, and even whole flower heads is deceptively easy, but gives spectacular results. They can be used to decorate biscuits, cakes, creamy meringue puddings and will keep in an air tight container for up to six weeks.

Roast lavender chicken served with lemon and rosemary flower potatoes

Serves 6
1 (2.25kg) large free range chicken
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp dried lavender
2kg King Edward potatoes
lemon, cut into wedges
1 tbsp rosemary flowers
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.


  • In a small bowl blend the butter and lavender together and season well with salt and cracked pepper.
    Starting with the neck end of the chicken, which is next to the wings, lift up the skin from the flesh and slowly insert your fingers to gently separate, along the length of the breast. Continue this on both breasts to create a cavity for the lavender butter.

  • Into this cavity evenly distribute the butter mixture and tuck under the excess neck skin and place the chicken into a roasting tray. Coat the chicken with olive oil, season, and cook for 1 hours.
    Peel and quarter the potatoes and placed in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the outside surface is cooked and has become soft.

  • Drain thoroughly and then roll the potatoes around the saucepan to fluff up this outer surface.
    Remove the chicken from the oven and add the potatoes to the roasting tray, coating each one in the juices from the bottom of the tray. Add extra olive oil, if required.

  • Turn the potatoes from time to time, to achieve an even golden colour and prevent them from burning.

  • To test if the chicken is cooked, insert a sharp knife into the thigh joint until the juices run out. They will be clear, without any traces of blood, when the meat is cooked.
    Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Transfer the chicken to a serving dish, arrange the potatoes around it, squeeze over the lemon juice and decorate with rosemary flowers.

Pistachio meringue tower with rose cream, strawberries and crystallised rose petals

Serves 6
4 eggs, whites only
60g castor sugar
60g granulated sugar
100g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
400ml whipping cream
1-2 tsp rose water, according to taste
400g strawberries, hulled and halved

For the crystallised rose petals
1 egg white
50g castor sugar
18 rose petals

You will need
A paintbrush


  • The crystallised rose petals will need to be made the day before, as they need time to dry out. To make them, take the individual rose petal and paint the front and back with egg white. Sprinkle sugar on both sides to form a light coating and place on a cooling rack to dry out. They will keep for six weeks when stored in an air tight container.

  • To make the meringues, firstly heat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1, and line two baking trays with baking parchment.

  • Place the egg whites in a large bowl and using a hand held electric whisk, beat them until they form firm peaks. Add the castor sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to whisk .Then add the granulated sugar in the same way until it is all incorporated and the meringue mixture is thick and glossy.

  • Using a spatula, gently fold in a third of the pistachio nuts.
    Spoon the mixture onto the baking tray to form 16 even sized meringues, ensuring that there is space in between each. Sprinkle over another third of the pistachios before placing in the oven for 1-2 hours.

  • Whip the cream until thick and able to hold its own shape, and then fold in the strawberries and rose water.

  • To form the tower, place the meringues on a serving plate, ideally a cake stand, and use the cream mixture to hold in position. Place a second tier on top of them and then a final tier of meringues.

  • Decorate the meringue tower with the crystallised rose petals and sprinkle over the remaining pistachios before serving.

Floral ice bowl

Makes one large ice bowl
Selection of roses, rose buds
and rose sprigs
Selection of contrasting flower petals such as daisies, geraniums and violas
24 ice cubes.

You will need
1 3 litre plastic bowl
1 2 litre plastic bowl
1 plastic tray
A bunch of parsley, chopped
A small bunch of chives, snipped small
Salt and pepper


  • Place all the flowers into the bottom of the large plastic bowl and add the ice cubes.

  • Next place the smaller bowl into the centre of the larger one, ensuring that there is an even space between the two, which is a minimum of 2cm wide. Weigh down the second bowl and fill the space between the two with chilled water. Arrange the flowers and sprigs as evenly as possible.

  • Transfer the bowls onto the plastic tray and freeze overnight.

  • Remove from the freezer 10 minutes or so before required and leave to thaw a little which will release the plastic bowls.

  • Place the floral ice bowl on a cake stand or plate before serving to the table and fill with ice cream, sorbet or summer berries.

Sarah Riley is a private chef who was brought up near Bidofrd-on-Avon. After a number of years based in London working for an A-list of celebrity clients she has moved back to Worcestershire where she is planning to open a restaurant.

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