Windsor·Pinto on Food

Edible flowers more than just a pretty garnish — they taste good, too

Ruthven flower farm, Oxley winery team up to serve dishes featuring local flowers.

Ruthven flower farm, Oxley winery team up to serve dishes featuring local flowers

Chef Aaron Lynn, centre, from Oxley Estate Winery with Natasha and Nathan Chortos from Floramère Flowers. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Earlier this summer, my wife and I were celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary at Oxley Estate Winery, one of the many wonderful wineries located along historic County Road 50.

We ordered a number of dishes, including a pea and edemame salad...

Fresh peas, edemame, tomato, mint pesto and garlic croutons, topped with an egg. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

... sticky pickled duck wings ...

One of Oxley's most popular dishes are the sticky pickled duck wings. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

...and arctic char.

Arctic char served with sausage and rösti. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Each dish was very different, with incredibly distinct flavours — but there was one thing that kept showing up: flowers.

Edible flowers.

When I asked Aaron Lynn, the 31-year-old executive chef at Oxley Estate Winery, about the constant presence of flowers on his dishes, he told me it was a result of a partnership he had with Floramère Flowers, a flower farm in Ruthven that is in its second year of operation.

Aaron Lynn is the executive chef at Oxley Estate Winery. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

So, I decided to visit the farm to find out more.

Tucked away on a narrow road off Kingsville Road 5 East, Floramère Flowers is run by 32-year-old Natasha Chortos. Unhappy with her job as a graphics designer in Toronto, Chortos decided to move to Essex County to start a flower farm, inspired by time spent with her florist grandmother as a child.

Natasha Chortos, right, runs Floramère Flowers in Ruthven with help from her husband, Nathan. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Chortos' husband, Nathan, 33, grew up in Essex County and happened to be high school friends with Lynn.

When the chef found out about the floral business, he asked if she would be growing edible flowers. Chortos said she would, and so Lynn decided to incorporate them into his cooking.

It was experimental at first.

Lynn and Chortos picking nasturtiums. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"Aaron came out to the farm and was just wandering through the fields and picking and eating everything," she said with a laugh. "And I'm just closely walking behind [saying] 'Don't eat that — that could hurt you!"

"Nothing hurt me, though," Lynn noted, grinning. "[I'm] indestructible." 

The use of edible flowers wasn't something Lynn grew up with, or encountered very much in culinary school. "It was something that seemed like it was a lot more 1980s, kind of putting a flower on a plate for no reason," he said.

Unlike many other edible flowers, the base and stem of the nasturtium can also be eaten. (Natasha Chortos/Floramère Flowers)

But after trying Chortos' flowers, he realized flowers don't just add visual appeal — they tasted good, too.

"I think the first time I started tasting nasturtiums, [I realized] 'Oh, this isn't just beautiful — which it totally is — but it has a real bite to it, it has a pepperiness, like a horseradish taste to it."

Today, Floramère grows and supplies about 10 edible flower varieties on an exclusive basis to Oxley.

Floramère Flowers delivers 5-6 of these clamshells full of edible flowers to Oxley Estate Winery each week. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"I think people are just tired of seeing microgreens all over the place," Lynn said. "Like, pea shoots are awesome ... but they don't have to be on every single plate."

Chortos notes that her flowers are used for more than just a tasty garnish.

"There's so many interesting ways that Aaron uses them," she said. "You can press them into pasta, he's making simple syrups, mixing into ice creams ... making butter. Imagination goes into it."

Chef Aaron Lynn's tomato salad with pickled peaches, pickled watermelon rind and a bunch of flowers, served on fresh lemon ricotta and topped with cold pressed canola oil. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Tap on the player to hear Jonathan talk about edible flowers with Afternoon Drive guest host Emm Gryner.

Floramère Flowers are available every Saturday at the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market. Oxley Estate Winery is 533 County Road 50 E. in Oxley, which is part of the Town of Essex.

CBC Windsor reporter Jonathan Pinto travels across southwestern Ontario as Afternoon Drive's "food dude." Know of a place you think he should check out? Email him at jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca or on Twitter @jonathan_pinto.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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