Calendula – A Golden Herb for Garden and Kitchen.

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Known also as the poet’s marigold or pot marigold, calendula brightens garden beds, pots, vases and culinary creations from spring to frost {or beyond} with its sunny flowers.

The flowers smell like honey, slightly spicy and woody- reminiscent of fresh rhubarb or angelica flowers- and their flavor is pleasantly mild and vegetable-sweet. Traditionally, the golden petals were used to flavor and color broths {hence the nickname “pot marigold}, butter, cheese. The dried petals even were used as a saffron substitute because they impart a rich golden color. In my own  kitchen, I use calendula in vegetable dishes, salads- particularly egg salad- custards and puddings, herb butters, baked goods, with grains and in mild-mannered soups.

For best flavor, gather the flowers at their peak bloom. Gently pull the petals from the bitter center disk and discard it. The petals can be used either whole or chopped. {Note that the petals are chewy even when dried; if this bothers you, chop or puree them before you add them to a recipe.}

You can dry whole flowers, but the individual petals dry faster. I scatter them on a baking pan that I keep in a small unheated oven, then mix in a few handfuls of harvested petals every few days. When I have a cup or so of dried petals, I put them in a dark brown glass jar and store it away from heat and light. Having these golden petals ready to use in my kitchen and apothecary makes me feel rich.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use calendula in the kitchen.

Calendula Cornmeal Crisps

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

I use a little whole-wheat flour for nutrition and body, but you could use all unbleached flour for a more delicate cookie. Also try almonds or pistachios in place of pecans, or cherries or chopped dried apricots in place of the cranberries.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh or dried calendula petals

1 cup pecans

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup unbleached white flour

1/3 cup whole-wheat flour

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

12 tablespoons softened, unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces

1 extra-large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a food processor, combine sugar and calendula; pulse until calendula starts to break down into smaller pieces. Transfer calendula sugar to a shallow bowl.

Pulse {or chop with a knife} pecans and cranberries until coarsely chopped; transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, combine flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Toss to mix.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure 3/4 cup of the calendula sugar and put it in food processor with butter. Process until creamy and blended, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape side if necessary. Add egg and pulse to blend. Add dry ingredients and process until just blended; do not over mix.

Transfer dough to bowl with nuts and fruit; stir to distribute nuts and fruit evenly. Using a spoon or your fingers, scoop about 1 tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball about 1 inch in diameter or slightly bigger. Roll balls in remaining calendula sugar and place on baking sheets, spacing balls about 2 inches apart.

Using a flat-bottomed glass, gently press balls to about 1/4-inch thickness. {Dip bottom of glass into sugar occasionally to prevent sticking.}

Bake cookies about 14 minutes, until their edges are lightly browned. If baking two sheets at once, switch places halfway through baking time.

Remove cookies from sheets immediately and cool on racks. {If the cookies cool on the pans, they will harden and break when removing.} Store in a tightly covered tin.

Cornmeal gives these cookies crunch and color.

Calendula Cornbread

Serves 8

For less dense bread, use all unbleached flour. If you use sorghum rather than honey, the bread will be a little darker and heavier in flavor.

3 to 4 tablespoons fresh calendula petals OR 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dried calendula petals

2 cups buttermilk

1 1/2 cups cornmeal, preferably stone-ground

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

3/4 cup unbleached flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 extra-large eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter

1/4 cup honey or sorghum

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Soak calendula in buttermilk while assembling remaining ingredients.

Oil a 10-inch skillet or baking pan. Sift cornmeal, flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk eggs, then add calendula-buttermilk, oil and honey and whisk together for 1 minute. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and blend well.

Pour batter into prepared skillet or pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cornbread cool for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.

Morning glory: These hearty muffins can be ready in less than an hour.

Egg Salad with Calendula and Chives

Serves 6

For a beautiful presentation, serve this on a plate lined with salad greens, and scatter additional calendula petals over the top, along with fresh snipped chives and/or dill. Good crusty country-style bread is the best accompaniment; however pitas, rye, pumpernickel or thinly sliced bagels are good too.

Note: For a quick herbal sandwich, simply slice hard-boiled eggs onto bread that’s been spread with a little mayonnaise and mustard; sprinkle with chopped onion or chives and calendula petals and chopped pickles. Season with salt and pepper.

12 hard-boiled eggs

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

2 tablespoons each chopped sweet pickles and juice

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions or minced onion

1/3 cup finely diced celery

2 tablespoons snipped chives

2 tablespoons snipped dill leaves

1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 handful fresh calendula petals, coarsely chopped

Petals for garnish

Dice eggs and put them in a bowl, along with mayonnaise, mustard, pickles and juice, onions, celery, 1 tablespoon of dill, paprika, salt and pepper. Mix well, then stir in chopped calendula. Refrigerate 1/2 hour or more before serving.

Remove from refrigerator 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Arrange salad greens on a platter and heap egg salad on top. Garnish with additional calendula petals and the remaining chives and dill.

Calendula petals and salad greens turn this home-style egg salad into a special luncheon dish, suitable for the first garden party of spring.

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