Looking every inch the Northwest farmer in his thick flannel shirt and broad oilcloth hat, Luke Woodward crouches down next to Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking host Pete Evans and picks a purple pompom blossom out of a patch of chive plants. Luke’s the farm operations manager of Oxbow Farm, a 25-acre vegetable and berry farm and fruit orchard in Carnation, Washington, where Pete has come to pick edible flowers for the feast he is preparing with local chefs Maria Hines and Holly Smith.
“Chive flowers are very sought after by chefs for their wild oniony flavor,” Luke says, breaking the blossom into a handful of tiny bell-shaped florets. Luke also supplies chefs with the edible flowers of familiar vegetables like kale, arugula, and broccoli. These flowers add a sweeter, milder flavor of their respective vegetables, as well as a bright pop of color perfect for dressing up salads. Luke says he used to consider a crop past its prime when it started producing flowers. “But in farming, you have to be creative. By harvesting the flowers, we can get more produce out of our labors.”
Pete is interested in the bold, peppery chive blossoms—one of Holly’s favorite ingredients. “When they’re blooming in the late spring, I have to be careful they don’t go in every dish,” she says, referring to her restaurant, Café Juanita in Kirkland, Washington. Pete plans to use the little buds in a geoduck clam carpaccio that he’s making for that night’s feast at Seattle’s Mallet Kitchen.
In addition to the chive blossoms, Pete gets nasturtiums and marigolds—two popular and peppery edible flowers—for Maria, who will use them in a salad. The chef-owner of Tilth, Golden Beetle, and Agrodolce restaurants in Seattle has a word of advice for would-be flower eaters: With some buds, such as the chive blossoms, nasturtiums, and rosemary blossoms (another Oxbow Farm crop), a little goes a long way, and their bold flavor “can catch you by surprise. They’re tiny and delicate, and then there’s that complete flavor explosion.”
Adapted from Fine Cooking #128, pp. 29-30
Text: Sara Dickerman; photos: Colin Clark