Our tastes apparently continue to change as we get older, even after we have outgrown the preferences of childhood. There are very few edibles I dislike heartily, and this has always been the case. I have grown fussier about freshness and good use of ingredients, but if I'm really hungry, there's not much I won't eat gratefully. I don't pine to sample juicy insect larvae, or that sort of thing, but within general cultural limits, I like it all. One of the rare exceptions to my omnivorous tastes used to be anything floral. A hint of perfume about my supper made me think of soap, and I didn't want any.
Since I thought of myself as entirely open-minded about food-I erroneously assumed nobody really liked eating flowers, and that the nasturtiums on my restaurant salad were therefore an affectation. Hence, I was inclined to make snippy remarks about them, while picking them out. I didn't bother to taste them, or I would have realized that they were peppery and arugula-like, and not at all "soapy".
The turn around began with fried zucchini blossoms. There they were before me, in a delicate, golden airy batter, smelling like a dream. It did not occur to me that they were flowers until long after I had inhaled them , and awarded them a permanent spot in my top ten favorite foods. (This is a singular honor for such a specialized item, the others on the list are much more basic-like bacon, and lemons.) Furthermore, the fabulous artichoke is a flower, too.
I began to realize that some things I already liked very much indeed, were floral in a more traditionally flowery way. Greek and middle eastern pastries were made with orange flower water-from the blossoms, not the fruit, and rosewater, too. My Penzey's Herbes de Provence had dried lavender in it. I got some plain dried lavender from the same source, and tried some lavender shortbread, which turned out to be charming, and a bit spicy-lovely with the buttery crumb.
Melissa's orange and lavender cake with almonds was just terrific. And this is how I came to surprise myself, by buying a jar of rose preserve at Turquoise, our lovely little local Murray Avenue Turkish shop (about which, more later) , and altering a recipe to include it. This preserve is beautiful on it's own on an english muffin or traditional american biscuit. It's got rose petals in it, floating in the jam-they are sweet, slippery and slightly chewy-very nice.
Inspired by many wonderful recipes cited in the Traveler's Lunchbox and elsewhere round the internet, I finally got a copy of Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons, by Diana Henry (it took Amazon a month to get it to me in the US). I liked the idea of the combined yogurt/walnut cake, with a coffee glaze, that I found there. I just thought, given its middle eastern origins, it might be nice glazed (or infused, really) with a rose syrup, made with my preserves, and some rosewater-as a variant from the coffee. I think my about-face on flowers is pretty well complete. If you'd like to try this, you will need:
whole milk yogurt 6 oz
walnuts, pulsed in a food processor, so that about 1/4 is ground, and the rest finely chopped 6oz
flour-self rising 6 oz
baking powder 1 tsp
rose preserves about 3/4 cup
rosewater, to thin above to syrup-like consistency if very thick
optional: coase sanding sugar in a pretty color for crunch
As you can see, this is a European recipe, so you will need to weigh the ingredients, or consult a table to transfer to cup measures. As I got a new kitchen scale for Christmas this year, I enjoyed the pleasure and accuracy of the weighing alternative. As I did so, I had the added benefit of painlessly memorizing the recipe-once I realized that there were six ounces of each ingredient, except the eggs and baking powder! So this is, in it's way, a pound cake variation, of the old school pound cake ilk (pound of butter, pound of sugar, etc.)-it's just a bit smaller and sligtly exoticized.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and line an 8 or 9 inch cake pan. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing. Add the yogurt, and mix. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Mix it all up nicely. Add the walnuts, and mix a bit more, until they are distributed throughout. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until it springs back when touched lightly in the center. It will be quite brown.
Set on a rack, and while it is still warm, poke it all over with a thin skewer, and pour the thinned rose preserve over all, to let it sink in. Once it is cooled, set it- still in its pan, in the fridge overnight to firm up. Turn it out, (you will need to go round the sides first with a knife or the like, to loosen it), remove the liner and, if you like, sprinkle with a rosy coarse sanding sugar, and/or powdered sugar and an optional scattering of rose petals before serving. It is very rich, and quite sweet-a small piece will go far. It is especially nice with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I'm sold on eating the roses.
Addendum: The five other people who ate this cake gobbled it up and made gratifying remarks. No one thought it tasted "odd".
Addendum the second: Here is a nice online weight conversion table for recipes. It is for volume to weight, rather than the other way around, but should still be useful.