I’ve been always intrigued by the mysterious „eight taste” appearing in one of the oldest Polish children’s rhyme songs. Surprising enough is the existence of the fifth taste (right after four basic ones: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) called umami – scientifically indentified in Japan in 1908. Nowadays, almost everybody flaunts their acquaintance with it – from odd birds boasting of knowing the name to exquisite chefs seeking umami not only in the essence of chicken broth but also in chocolate and dry mushrooms.
Joyous kids came up with an idea of the eight taste but I will never know what they had in mind. The only reasonable explanation is they just wanted a song to rhyme; though, I’d rather use the name for personal purpose by indentifying the eight taste as the taste of edible flowers.
Flowers with stronger scents are most likely to provide us with more intensive sensations – others will leave us with unspecified, ephemeral feelings stemming from lettuce leaves’ mildness or grass stalks’ rawness (I admit, I couldn’t resist my curiosity and had a bite of juicy burdock and forbidden thistle).
If we were to think that we are what we eat, wouldn’t it be nice – once March has passed – to boost our spirits when April’s in full bloom – to freely blossom in spring?
Saying this, I think about eating cauliflower, broccoli, capers and artichokes – isn’t that right they are flowers? I like them best when served simply – there’s no need to improve perfection. I even make cauliflower panna cotta and hummus.
It’s all pure, vigorous Polish poetry – eating flowers from apple trees, pear trees, plums, lindens, cherries and acacias. Lilac looks wonderfully on cakes and, if immersed in sugar inside a glass jar, eagerly shares its aroma with tiny white crystals. Elder, on the other hand, used in folk medicine for hundreds of years serves me as an ingredient of pancakes.
The crucial thing is not to pick anything growing by streets or in polluted areas, and to be aware of what has been sprayed on flowers. Speaking of poisonous flowers such as acacia, sweet pea, lobelia, anemone, crocus, kingcup, iris, hydrangea or lily of the valley – these should not even be used to decorate food. Neither should daffodils – especially tempting in Easter time nor narcissuses – it’s generally advisable not to let narcissuses in your kitchen, dining room or life, isn’t it? ☺
Flowers of vegetables, however, are a completely different story. I usually stuff or bake a tart with pumpkin or zucchini flowers in rich saffron colors reminiscent of the robes of Buddhist monks. I also appreciate delicate flouncy petals of bean and pea flowers. It’s worth using vinegar to make them more vigorous.
Here comes the time for my favorite– flowers of herbs. I know it is most reasonable to pick herbs before they start blooming because then, we find all the richness in leaves. I just cannot help it as I utterly enjoy the look and taste of this tiny embodiments of warm meadows which lay on my plate accompanied by lettuce or goat cheese. There are adorable spring onion flowers – lilac needles with an onion taste; intricate, secession-like structures of borage flowers (only the blue part is edible); flowers of balmy lavender from which I make a strong brew and add it to various sauces and an apple pie (a recipe for which can be found in a cookbook by Agata Królak “Ciasta, ciastka I takie tam” published in 2011); thyme, basil flowers; purple flowers of sage I mix with cucumber ice-cream.
And it’s not like we eat these impressive and colorful flowers straight from the florist’s – we eat them straight from ecological beds growing in certified plantations so that we know they are not toxic. What am I talking about: we eat flowers straight from our own beds growing on our balconies, don’t we? April is the month of planting, let’s admit it and take up a new, exciting challenge! Pansies like eyelike spots, violets, geranium, carnations, hibiscuses which can do wonders to a glass of simple white wine with club soda (so called spritzer) and change it into a romantic cocktail by gracefully opening their petals; snapdragons, daisies, distinctive nasturtiums, touch-me-nots, roses and their one of a kind flavor in preserves and homemade rose water, begonias, marigolds which color Hindi fried rice, magnolias, poppies…
The eight taste? I’d definitely taste it.
Text and photo: Anna Królikiewicz
Artist, teacher, author of numerous exhibitions and installations. She works as the Associate Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk where she teaches drawing and at School of Form in Poznań where she gives classes titled The shape of taste. In her drawings and objects she deals with a broadly defined corporeality of a body and the fragility of memory. Her latest works touch upon the issues related to the physiology of taste and the phenomenon of synesthesia.