Using flowers in the French cooking from the 18th century

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What are you doing with your posies of mallow, jasmine, jonquil, carnation, orange blossom, roses, violet? You decorate your house with them, you send them as a present or you let them decorate your garden?

In the 18th century, these flowers were used for cooking. People thought that some of them were good for one’s health, and had medicinal virtues. Orange blossom was frequently used because of its good taste and enjoyable smell.

The mallow, jasmine, jonquil, carnation, orange blossom, rose, and violet were common ingredients used to prepare sorbet, sugared fruit preserves, flower pastry, sugared almonds, praline,pastlles (or lozenges), flower water and flower conserves.

 

Flower sorbet was one of the most frequent preparations. It was prepared with jasmine, jonquil, carnation, orange blossom, rose or violet. People spellt the flowers, crushed them with a mortar, mixed them with water and sugar, sifted them before putting them into the « salbotière », the ice cream equipment now known as the « sorbetière ».

Conserves were very useful too. Prepared with mallow roots and jasmine flowers sprinkled with 2 or 3 drops of lemon, or very finely crushed jonquil flowers, orange blossoms or when there was not orange marmelade, white roses or violets. Petals were mixed, then cooked with sugar before being poured into a mold to become firm.

For flower pastry, the most useful flowers were: mallow, jasmine, orange blossom, and violet. The same flowers, except orange blossom, were also used to prepare syrups. Jasmine, jonquil, orange blossom and violets were also used to flavor cakes. Flowers, particularly jasmine, orange blossom and violet were conserved into sugar, which was introduced in Europe during the Crusades in the Middle Ages.

When sugar was introduced, according to the advice of Hippocrates, it was considered a rare and expensive remedy. Before going to sleep, people used to eat «bedroom spices» to digest and sleep well. These spices; sugared almonds, pralines and pastilles were prepared with jasmine, orange blossoms, or violets coated with sugar. After eating them, people felt much better.

In the 18th century, different kindsf flower water were use: rose water, rose or jonquil essence, orange blossom light water for drinking and cooking. Orange blossoms and roses were made into liqeur and eau-de-vie, a type of brandy.

Today sometimes we sprinkle our dishes with some flower petals, but the daily cooking doesn’t use flowers anymore, except some: violet, rose and orange flower or depending on the passing fashion.
But don’t run to empty your garden or your favorite florist shop. The flowers of today are not nearly the same as the flowers from the 18th century. And before cooking some hazardous dishes, it would be better to ask somebody competent (a pharmacist, for example) about the properties of various flowers.

Recipe Carnation Sorbet
Put in a mortar a handful of leaves of carnation flowers, crush them very finely, dissolve into one pint of water (1 pint = 0,9 liter), then add 250 fr sugar and mix. When sugar is dissolved, stir the water three or four times, then pass through a sifter into a clean container. Put the flavored water into the « salbotière » to became sorbet.
French recipe from 1765