Acacia blossoms mark the beginning of summer in Poltava. White clusters appear on craggy trees that ordinarily get noticed only because their powerful roots crack the pavement around the city. But come May, the streets are filled with their perfume of sweet orange and jasmine and the sidewalks are covered with a carpet of white pointy blossoms. “Now it’s really the end of spring,” remarks an elderly woman to no one in particular. She rearranges bunches of green onions and dill on a makeshift stall she set up near a bus stop and brushes off the fallen acacia flowers onto the pavement.
I count spring not in months but in flowers. First come apricot blossoms and star magnolias. Then cherry blossoms make their brief entrance turning dreary Soviet-era street blocks into Impressionist etudes. Apples, lilacs, and viburnum move in successive waves, and finally it’s the time of acacias. In their heady perfume I smell the blistering heat of summer and dusty chestnut leaves.
Acacia is a misnomer, because the plant is a black locust tree, robinia species. (To add more to the fragrant confusion, the plant Americans call acacia, Europeans call mimosa, and they have nothing to do with the white robinias I’m describing.) White acacia is closer to wisteria, another blossom with the potential to transform the ugliest surroundings into an abode for fairies with its sinuous vines and heavy clusters of grape colored flowers.
White acacia flowers are the source of honey that is famous for its delicate perfume and lack of crystallization. Even after a year, it remains fluid. The blossoms are edible, with a honeyed taste and a fresh pea like sweetness. They can be dipped into a thin batter and deep-fried, turned into syrups, cordials and jams. They can be sugared and used for decorating cakes or eaten as fragrant bonbons along with a cup of bitter coffee. There is enough aroma to linger through all of the preservation techniques.
This spring is set on fast-forward, with nearly all flowers coming into bloom at once, and instead of the more complicated preparations, I opted for drying acacia blossoms. I thought that perhaps drying might make the flavor coarse and grassy, but when I brewed a cup of tisane, using nothing but water and a touch of honey (1/2 tablespoon of dried blossoms, 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon mild honey), I could smell the delicate perfume.
For the best fragrance, acacia blossoms should be picked when they’re freshly opened, because the flowers past their prime have a musty scent. Dry them in a shady spot, avoiding direct sunlight which will rob the petals of their essential oils. Store in a well-sealed canister and retain a souvenir of spring so ripe that it’s almost summer.
To make candied flowers or perfumed syrup, please follow the instructions in this article, replacing violets with acacias.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin