Grow Your Own

How To: Cutting and Caring for Flowers

Cutting and caring for flowers correctly ensures that the hard work of your garden gets its best reception. Cutting flowers and caring for them is simple, but it helps to know what you’re going to do first. Here are our favorite steps to floral beauty and longevity — in the vase!

Cutting

Most flowers are best picked when they are just starting to show color, and will last longer at this stage than if collected in full bloom. However some flowers, such as dahlias and roses, may not fully open up if cut when the buds are tight.

Here are some tips for cutting flowers:

  • Generally, the best time to cut and collect flowers is in the morning when their stems are turgid and less likely to wilt. Ideally wait until the dew has dried because moisture on flowers in storage are prone to botrytis, a fungal disease that will ruin them.
  • If you wait until the evening to cut flowers, do so when the sun is low in the sky and the air has cooled. In a perfect world, flowers would be cut only in temperatures below 80 degrees.
  • Make sure your clippers are clean to prevent the spread of bacteria. A quick dip in a jar of alcohol in between harvests will also help reduce the spread of disease. Clippers should also be sharp in order to make a clean cut and not smash the stems. We recommend you invest in high quality clippers (pruners) and a sharpening stone. We like to use a strong pair of pruners for thick stems such as lilacs and other woody perennials. For thinner stems, we prefer these everyday garden scissors.
  • Cutting flowers quickly and efficiently is a skill you develop with experience. You need to cut the flower, stripping the foliage from the lower part of the stem, and get the stems into water as soon as possible.
  • Always be sure to use scrupulously clean buckets, or you’ll risk introducing bacteria that will quickly plug up the stems of your flowers and prevent them from taking up water. Without water, your flowers will quickly wilt.

Caring

Once cut, it’s important to condition flowers to prolong their longevity and keep them looking their best.

Condition the cut stems by following these easy steps:

  • After cutting, you need to remove the field heat from the plant material as soon as possible to ensure the longest life. For the home gardener, bringing the flowers into a cool house or garage is usually all you need to cool them off.
  • For best results, recut all stems using sharp pruners to avoid crushing the stems and reducing their ability to take up water through their stems.
  • Leave the prepared stems in a cool place for 2 to 3 hours or longer to allow the flowers to drink up water and become turgid again.
  • Some plants with weak stems and heavy heads are prone to bending. To help straighten the stems, wrap the bunch of flowers in newspaper and leave in water for at least two hours. As the stems take in water and stiffen, they will support the flower head in an upright position.

Eat Good Food

How to Use Edible Flowers

Edible flowers, with their vibrant colors and fetching shapes, are not only attractive to pollinators such as bees and birds. For us, there is a special pleasure and almost intimacy about eating a flower, tuning in to a plant’s life cycle at its most seductive moment.

We grow edible flowers year-round at HomeFarm. All are easy to grow and look as beautiful in the garden as they do on the plate.

Harvest Note: Pick flowers in the morning on a dry day once the petals have opened. Flowers are very delicate and need careful handling.

Snip the blooms with small scissors, taking care not to touch the flower face. Place in a single layer in your harvest basket or tray.

Once back in the kitchen, check for bugs and use right away or store in a cool place.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Lightly minty with a note of licorice, this perennial’s leaves and striking purple flowers can be harvested over a long growing time. Trim the flower heads and leaves to use fresh or dried in a tisane (herb tea), or separate the tiny flowers from the main stem to scatter over the top of a fruit salad or garnish a summer cucumber soup.

Anise hyssop really shines in sweets; the leaves and flowers can be infused into custards for créme anglaise or ice cream, cooked with sugar to make a simple syrup for flavoring lemonade, or cooked with fruit for syrups, sauces, and jams.

Borage (Borago officinialis)
Borage, also known as starflower, is a familiar annual herb with furry leaves and small, star-shaped blossoms in the most delectable shade of blue. With a taste reminiscent of cucumber, borage flowers are excellent tossed into salads and make a beautiful garnish for cold potato, pea, or cucumber soups.

They are also attractive floated on cordials and cocktails, such as Pimm’s Cup or gin and tonics. If you have time and want to impress, freeze the flowers in ice cubes.

Add a few borage flowers to lemonade, and it will turn pink from the acid of the citrus, a delightful trick for a child’s party!

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Also called “pot marigolds,” this easy-to-grow annual is strongly flavored: use only the golden- to orange-hued petals. The flowers range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery, and can be used to color and flavor salads, butter, eggs, pasta, and rice dishes, much like saffron but with a lighter touch.

The petals can be dried and stored for winter, and make for an especially colorful addition to leek and potato or butternut squash soups.

Chive Blossoms (Allium schoenoprasum)
The smallest member of the onion family, the common chive is a hardy perennial that happily comes back each year in the garden, offering early blooms in the spring. The purple pompom flower heads are made up of individual florets that can be pulled apart and scattered on a potato salad, mixed into an herb butter, or used as a garnish on any dish where the flavor is warranted — like creamy soups, deviled eggs, or salads.

The blossom heads can also be used to infuse vinegar, making a gorgeous blush-colored chive-flavored vinegar in just a few days.

Cornflower (Centaurea cynaus)
Also known as Bachelor’s Buttons, the cornflower is a tall, slender plant with blossoms resembling tiny carnations with pointed petals. The petals of traditional blue cornflowers look beautiful in a green salad, but its vivid shades of crimson, pink, and purple are nearly as eye-catching. They have a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor with a subtle sweetness.

Cornflowers have varied uses — providing a colorful element in vibrant summer salads, adding appeal to soft cheeses, or for making natural food coloring for icings. They are often crystallized or used fresh as decoration for cakes and desserts.

Dianthus (Dianthus caryophyllus)
Dianthus are the miniature member of the carnation family with a light clove-like or nutmeg scent. To use the surprisingly sweet petals, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. The bright red and pink petals can then be added to fruit salads or used as an elegant garnish for desserts.

Carnation petals are one of secret ingredients that have been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)
This plant produces masses of small yellow, white, and purple blooms that make wonderfully dainty decorations for cakes, puddings, and other desserts. These edible flowers are among the first of spring, and their fresh, faintly wintergreen flavor is good in mixed green salads or winter citrus compotes.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
One of the tastiest of all edible flowers, nasturtium blossoms are boldly colored in gorgeous shades of sunshine, red, peach, and pink.

The pungent-flavored blossoms and green lily pad-shaped leaves have a sweet, peppery flavor akin to watercress and are said to have exceptional antioxidant qualities. Whole blossoms can be stuffed with herbed goat cheese, sliced thinly and added to quesadillas, or chopped with shallots to make a compound butter.

You can also pickle the fat green seed pods that appear in late summer and use them as you would capers. Both the flowers and leaves can be served as a tangy salad on their own, or as part of a mixed salad.

Eat Good Food

Cast Iron Care, a Love Story

Cast iron care is the key to creating a cook’s best friend. Properly cared for, a cast iron pan will reward your efforts for a lifetime — and beyond. Cast iron conducts and holds heat well, making it ideal for both frying and simmering on the stovetop or roasting in the oven. It’s great for searing meat, for stir-frying, roasting vegetables, scrambling eggs, frying chicken, baking cornbread. . . . this essential pan really is an endlessly useful tool.

Moreover, a cast iron pan is one of those kitchen items that, if taken care of properly, only improves with age. SHED owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton still use Doug’s grandmother’s skillet in their daily cooking and each of their sons received a new pan upon leaving home, hopefully to use for the rest of their lives.

Whether or not you pass yours on to the grandkids, here are a few simple tips for cleaning and maintaining your cast iron pan:

Season it when you get it. Even pre-seasoned cast iron can do with some extra protection. To season your pan, heat it up on the stovetop until it’s smoking hot, then rub a little oil into it and let it cool. Repeat this process a few times and let cool completely before storing.

Clean it after each use. Clean your pan by rubbing it with kosher salt and a kitchen towel while it’s still warm, then wiping it out with vegetable oil. If you need a more thorough cleaning, wash using a tiny amount of dish soap and warm-to-hot water, scrubbing out any gunk or debris from the bottom. Use a non-abrasive scrubber for this. Don’t use steel wool unless the goal is to bring the pan back to a raw state for re-seasoning.

Don’t let it stay wet. Water is the natural enemy of iron. Letting even a drop of water sit in your pan when you put it away can lead to a rust spot. Always dry out your pan with a paper towel and coat it with a tiny amount of oil before storage.

Re-season it. Re-season your pan to counteract signs of rust. Start with a clean dry pan and place over a burner set to high heat. When the surface has warmed, add a half teaspoon of such neutral oil as vegetable, canola, flaxseed, or shortening. Rub it around with a paper towel. Continue heating the pan until it just starts to smoke — then give it one more good rub with the oiled towel. Let it cool and store away from water.

Fry and Sear in it. The best way to keep your seasoned pan maintained is to use it a lot! The more you fry, sear, or bake in it, the better its seasoning will become.

Remember: Never ever put your cast iron pan in the dishwasher!

Want more? Learn to make Buttermilk Cornbread like Cindy’s mother and grandmother.

Preserve the Season

How to Make Hoshigaki

The simple process of making hoshigaki is a farmer’s tradition in the Japanese countryside, the only ingredients being time, patience, and the fruit itself.

Harvest

The persimmons should be harvested when they are still hard and just turning orange. Pick them with the stems intact, and store calyx down. Handle the fruit very gently, as any bruise will create a soft spot that may leak during the drying process.

Peel

Cut off the shoulder of the fruit with one circular motion, leaving the stem and a small ring of calyx. Then peel in steady, even motions, being careful not to go over any spot more than once and to avoid leaving hard ridges. A master once said that exactly 18 stokes will do the trick. (Note: Cover your work surface with newspaper as the peels can be very sticky and harden when dried).

Hang

hoshigaki 2

Tie slip knots around the stem of each fruit and lay them in pairs over a rod or piece of bamboo. (Or more traditionally, tie several pieces of fruit down one long string.) If you’ve lost the stem, the fruit can still be hung with the aid of a stainless screw placed in the calyx. Make sure that each fruit has adequate airspace and isn’t touching another object. A warm, dry environment like a sunny window is best. Protect the fruit from dew, or they are subject to mold.

Massage

After about five days of hanging in the sun, the persimmons will form a thin skin. Without tearing that skin, gently squeeze the fruit between your fingers to break up the inner pulp into a uniform texture. Every day after this, the fruit should be gently massaged as such. This process brings sugars to the surface, leaving a white bloom. The hoshigaki are fully done when the pulp sets and you can no longer roll it, in about three to five weeks.

Store and Serve

A fine box containing gently displayed handmade hoshigaki makes for a perfect gift. Typically the fruit is sliced into small strips and served with green tea. Hoshigaki can be frozen to extend its freshness, but chances are these edible jewels won’t last long anyway.

Chefs, Cooking, Eat Good Food

Crema di Lardo

“Like butter from a pig” is how one cook describes Crema di Lardo, the airy, whipped, and spreadable charcuterie traditionally made from ground pork lard. Chef Perry Hoffman incorporates it into the Farro Verde salad in our Café. Watching him make it is part of the fun. Taught by his grandmother, Perry creates our Crema di Lardo by hand in a very specific manner.

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