Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Eating the flower of death.

Today, November 1st …

Today is the first of the “Days of the Dead” in Mexico, and bright yellow marigolds – “the flowers of death” - are everywhere. Their strong smell supposedly guides the dead back to their earthly homes for this few days each year, when they are especially honoured by their descendants over two days of fun-filled celebration – a strangely incongruous idea to those of us with an Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Marigolds are everywhere except in the food, even though they are very edible, and have a long history of use in Europe for medicinal and culinary purposes. So, if you are unable to get to Mexico for the fun, but have a few pesticide-free edible marigolds in your garden, you can at least get into the spirit of the day (pun intended) - European-style - by simply putting them in your salads, or cooking the leaves like spinach. If you feel more culinary energy coming on, you could even make marigold conserve or wine. Another very popular use was in “pease soope” and broths, particularly mutton-broth, and dried flowers used to be sold for that particular purpose.

There is far too much “past tense” in these discussions of ingredients, don't you think? One writer in 1841 was already bemoaning the fact that “The use of marigold flower in soup, or broth, has for some reason gone out of fashion with modern cooks”.

Marigolds have sometimes been called “poor man’s saffron” because of their colour. Which would you rather eat (real saffron I know, but lets assume for the purposes of this discussion that you cant afford it right now) – “natural marigold” or artificial yellow colours E102, E104, E107, E110?

Here is an almost modern recipe from “The Gentle Art of Cookery” (1925) by two very English ladies, Mrs Leyel and Miss Hartley.

Eggs cooked with Marigold

Blanch and chop some marigold flowers; poach as many eggs as are required, and while they are cooking sprinkle them thickly with chopped marigolds and season them with nutmeg, pepper and salt. They should be poached very slowly.
Fry some bread first steeped in milk. Strew the croutons with powdered marigolds; serve the eggs on the top with fried parsley, and garnish them with fresh marigold flowers.

Gives a new slant on the idea of “sunny-side up”, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow … An old take on seafood extender.

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