Cook: Crystallised Violets & Creeping Charlie
Bringing the spring meadow into the kitchen has long been a tradition all over the world, but especially in England, where flowers cover the countryside for the season. Gluten free floral cake was called for.
Royalty and peasants alike would enjoy the bounty of colour and goodness that flowers would add to a ‘sallett’, a tart, a vegetable side dish or a meat’s garnish…rose petals steeped and turned to a gellie, sugared small fruits, honeycomb cakes of cowslips…
We travelled to Kent to explore some of the Spring meadows and discover how modern day country chefs use flowers in their food.
Horseback through a meadow of cowslips, we heard how the farmer had brought the cowslips in himself and scattered them, because of his love of this bright, spring, edible flower. Their fields were now covered in the small, yellow plants.
Creeping Charlie was harder to come across, but it was delicious on a salad and garnishing sea bass, as well as lightening a ransom (wild garlic) dip. These delicious ideas came from The Marquis At Alkham.
In Australia my daughter’s birthday is in the Autumn. Which of course means, that while we are in England, she has a spring birthday! She wanted to make the most of it with a cake decorated with some of the season’s offering. Nonetheless, because she’s on a low salicylate diet, we had to go gently on the flowers, so we used some crystallised petals to decorate a cornflour sponge roll. Buttercream and violets, with pear jam layers lavishing the centre.
‘To Candy Cowslips or Any Flowers in Bunches’
sent in by Mrs Eales, Confectioner to King William III and Queen Anne
- Steep gum arabic in water
- Wet the Flowers with it
- Shake them in a cloth to remove superfluous moisture
- Dip them in fine sifted sugar
- Hang them on a string tied across a chimney that has a fire in it.
- They must hang 2 – 3 days till the flowers are quite dry.
You can sugar small fruits by beating an egg white, dipping the fruit in it, lying it on a dry cloth, rolling the fruit in fine sifted sugar until quite covered, then laying to dry on a sieve in a warm place. (I suggest trying coconut sugar!)
Good Things In England shares many flowery recipes from across the centuries and the island. I will be trying many more over the season.
Cornflour Sponge Roll with Pear Buttercream (Gluten Free)
(this is FAILSAFE without the pretty violets)
- 8 eggs
- 150g caster sugar, plus additional 5 tbsp. for sprinkling
- 160g cornflour
- 2 tsp baking powder (gf)
- 1 tsp natural vanilla extract (if allowed)
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
- Prepare a swiss roll baking tray – grease and line with baking parchment.
- Beat the eggs and sugar for at least 5 minutes – longer if you have the time – until they are light, pale, creamy, adding the vanilla.
- Sift in the cornflour and baking powder and fold together.
- Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 10 – 13 minutes, taking care not to over bake it and dry it out.
- Once it is out of the oven, you need to roll it while it is still hot, and leave it to cool.
- Cover a clean muslin tea towel or another piece of baking parchment with a sprinkling of caster sugar.
- Turn the roll carefully onto this and roll it up gently but firmly into its roll shape.
- Leave it to cool like this.
Buttercream and Pear Filling
- butter 170gm
- icing sugar 50gm
- 1 ripe (or even just over-ripe) pear
(you may need to double the recipe depending on how thick you like your icing laid on!)
- Make a simple buttercream (beat 170gm softened butter with about 50gm of icing sugar until its lighter in colour and the icing sugar has dissolved)
- Cut up half an over-ripe, soft pear into small pieces and mix through the buttercream.
- Once the cake is cool, carefully unroll it enough to lather one side in Pear Buttercream then re-roll.
- Use the remaining buttercream to cover the top and, as did Elodie, decorate precisely and symmetrically with crystallised petals. (My personal style would have been a more generous, colourful, nature-scattered sprinkling of the violets, but this was Elodie’s cake)