spring tastes: 13 posts

White Acacia and Cucumber Salad : Edible Flowers

While mimosa makes me think of the last days of winter in Provence, white acacia flowers evoke late spring. It’s not only the sweet scent that appeals to me, but also the taste. Beignets de fleurs d’acacia, acacia flower fritters, are a seasonal treat, a crisp confection dusted with powdered sugar. The acacia season is fleeting, but it overlaps with that of rose de mai, so when I visit Grasse for the harvest, I try to time it to taste the beignets.

What I call white acacia is really a black locust tree (robinia pseudoacacia), a common plant in both Europe and the United States, blooming in April-May, depending on the region. I’ll continue calling it white acacia, because that’s the name most familiar to me–and besides, it’s prettier. Whatever you call it, it’s edible, and the flowers taste like sugar snap peas, but sweeter and more delicate. Since it’s an invasive plant, one might as well forage for it and eat it.

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How to Candy Violets

Last spring I found myself short of sugar sprinkles to decorate a cake but I did have a big bouquet of violets from the garden. My grandmother, never at loss for ideas, flipped through her notebooks and found a simple recipe for making candied violets at home. “Brush each petal with egg white, sprinkle with sugar and leave on a rack to dry,” was the only instruction. So I followed it and ended up with pretty candied flowers. They not only lasted for a few months in a tightly covered tin, but also retained their bright color and delicate flavor.

Unlike commercial candied violets, homemade flowers don’t have an aggressive purple color nor the strong scent of synthetic ionone. If your violets are scented, you can taste the real violet flavor, which is a combination of raspberry and rose. It’s more subtle, but also more nuanced and complex.

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Easter Eggs Colored With Onion Skins

I see the Easter color palette as yellow, violet, green, and sienna. Yellow is from the saffron tinted paska, a vanilla scented brioche we traditionally make for Easter Sunday. Violet is from the candied flowers we use to decorate it. Green is from the dill and cucumber salad that must accompany the roast pork. Sienna, on the other hand, is from the color of Easter eggs. It’s a rich hue, between the reds of Sienna frescoes and the brown of sandalwood. This color is completely natural and making it is very easy. All you need is a few handfuls of onion skins.

My grandmother starts collecting onion skins a few months before Easter, but she colors dozens of eggs. Most of us need no more than a few onions, although the more skins you have, the darker the color will be. It also follows that the darker the onion skins, the more intense the shade of sienna.

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Chocolate, Violets, Bread : A Call for New Gourmands

My grandmother’s Easter bread is a lacy confection of butter and sugar. Glazed with chocolate and decorated with flowers, it looks like a Byzantine mosaic. Redolent of bitter cacao and violets, it doesn’t just smell good. I realize with a thrill that it smells like a complete perfume–the top note of violet, the heart of hazelnuts and wheat, and the lingering backdrop of musky chocolate. Take this idea, refine it into an accord–a combination of several perfume notes that becomes more than the sum of its parts–and voila, you can use it to create a new gourmand genre. Sounds fanciful, but this is how perfume is made.

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On the face of it, it seems as if the gourmand genre has captured every dessert, from crème brûlée (Aquolina Pink Sugar) to cupcakes (Vera Wang Princess), from rice pudding (Tommy Hilfiger True Star) to raspberry macarons (Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire). You can have your chocolate with cinnamon (Pacifica Mexican Cocoa), with caramel (Thierry Mugler Angel), or with honey (Tom Ford Noir de Noir).

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Easter and Violets

“Victoria puts bread to sleep on pillows!” said a college classmate after visiting me during my Easter preparations. You see, in order for paska, the Ukrainian brioche-like bread made for the holiday, to retain its lacy, lighter-than-air texture and not collapse under its own weight, it has to cool down on something soft. So my paska had its own pillow, and once a year it was brought out to serve as a ceremonial cushion. All of this might strike others as quaint, but Easter is the most beloved holiday in my family, and everyone takes preparations seriously.

easter

This year we follow the familiar pattern, but it’s an even more special holiday because I’m spending it with my family in Ukraine. I’ve already stuffed myself with matzoh balls at my cousin’s Pesach table in Kyiv, and now I’m anticipating an Easter feast with my grandmother. This morning we already boiled the onion peels to create a natural maroon-red dye for eggs. The fresh cheese has been drained and whipped with almonds for an Easter cheesecake.  Our home is once again filled with the wine-like aroma of rising dough, vanilla sugar, rum soaked raisins, and violets.

I wish everyone Happy Easter, Happy Pesach and a wonderful spring. May it usher in more joy, love and happiness.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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