It's been inspiring being at the farm the last few days. Even with a storm approaching, it's relaxing. I've
been photographing incessantly. We're at that time in Northern California when winter becomes spring silently. Tree limbs-- naked, criss-cross and sharply stab clouded skies. The air, cool and humid.
tiny buds push through
and soon, when you squint, a smudge of green is visible. Young leaves unfurl, greens, almost glow-in-the-dark, greet us. It's a confusing time.
Like the person who trips into a faerie ring, waking up to Spring after a barely noticeable winter, a winter that whipped us into chilly submission, if only for a minute, tip-toes quietly out, and, with just enough rain, plants shake off hibernation and greet us with newness.
You could say we're spoiled. It's partly true.
As an East Coaster I do miss definitive season divides. I don't miss walking to work in subzero weather or the stale and putrid stench of the Broadway Lafayette station in 98% humidity. I miss the snow falling and quieting my multi-million peopled city, but not the fact that my neighborhood was the last zip code to be plowed, slipping on black ice, and having to travel 2 hours one way to get to an ocean clean enough to swim in.
In Northern California our weather changes are more subtle. So subtle, it could be said there are none. But it's not true outside of the urban Bay Area. In Napa Valley there are four distinct seasons. When I lived here I was quite struck by this, especially considering I had lived in Oakland for some time in the late '90's.
Being born on the first day of Spring might be one of the reasons why I feel ownership towards this season. Winter has historically been my most dreaded season, the worst one for my spirits. So when fruit blossoms arrive I can barely keep still. I never tire of photographing them! They are Persephone's first words: winter is soon to be behind us and my favourite fruits are on their way.
This comment question came in on 'almond blossoms:'
how about these, can we pick these, come on I bet we could do something great with plum blossoms. the question dam has now been opened. to take the blossom or wait for the fruit? who the heck is silly enough to forget the fruit just for the whisper of flavor from the blossom...of course what a whisper it could be; and what is the difference between a shout and a whisper? Which commands more attention, which one do you remember? H. Alexander Talbot.
The only place I've seen a recipe involving almond blossoms is in Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts. You would, indeed, need to be close friends with the almond farmer, though. Especially after last year's deluge of rain practically eliminated the California Organic almond crop. When working with edible flowers it is of utmost importance that they are not sprayed with any substance you wouldn't want to spray directly into your mouth. In any infusion, all the chemicals farms use become part of your end food result; it's composition, taste.
When a fruit or nut's flavor is not intense, nor will be it's flower. Conversely, a strong scented or flavored fruit, as a raw being, will produce powerfully perfumed blossoms.
Citrus blossoms are the best example of the latter example. The first time I used orange blossoms it blew me away how few I needed to flavor a large batch of Bavarian I was making at Bouchon. Their overwhelming Provencal scent even came through the plastic bag they were delivered in from Lazy Susan Ranch via Greenleaf!
But because Meyer lemons are so wonderful I've never chosen the blossoms over the fruit. That said, I would be willing to forsake some limes for the opportunity to work with lime flowers. I can only imagine how lime's sweeter side could be extracted from its female parts.
When we work, in the kitchen, with various parts of the plant besides the main attraction, that which we eat out of hand, we get to know it's essence that much more. We teach our noses and tongues to recognize volatile molecules. Live perfumes which are also present in the fruit, but acids and sugars and overall love of fruit's flesh get in the way of. We smell these whispers when we infuse leaves and flowers and woods.
Just look to cheese makers who have been using leaves and ash to infuse various milks from the outside in, sometimes mimicking the animal's diet. Or wine makers who craft barrels out of aromatic tree woods. Or those who smoke meat and fish, picking branches not only for their different burning temperatures, but also for their complex sweet smokes. I am one of many who knows the sweet and spicy differences between Birch and Sassafrass rootbeer. And few who taste a perfectly balanced honey-lavendar ice cream can argue against its odd but appealing flavor.
The flavor of perfume.
The heady taste of the ineffable.
"of course what a whisper it could be; and what is the difference between a shout and a whisper? Which commands more attention, which one do you remember?"
My dream has always been to make a real Blanc Mange from green almonds. It would be cost and time prohibitive in the most outlandish way. (Perhaps this is a job for Claudia, Heidi, Joycelyn or Keiko?) Or a layered frozen dessert using different citrus blossoms for each layer, with maybe it's corresponding marmalade or juice gelee separating the layers.
But subtle is what these stone fruit blossoms are. In order to make an infusion of any of these work, your overall dish would need to be quite delicate (flavor, texture, temperature) to begin with. It would need to be a course where all of your senses were focused only on that which was in front of you. Served, perhaps with a Mother-of-Pearl spoon that did not interfere with the taste or temperature at all.
Taste that is perfume requires the mouth be utterly quiet. Open to pleasure elusive, the lightest touch on the most sensitive of skin, caressing velvety pubescence, tasting a whisper whispered sweetly: almost a nothing.