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We live on the top of a fairly high ridge in West Seattle, which is surmounted by a line of huge bigleaf maples, each one hundreds of feet tall. They’re striking, and creak in the wind, and generally fantastic to have so close by– majesty of nature, etc. Every year, around this time, they are covered with what must be hundreds of thousands of cute little yellow-green flowers:
I remembered having read somewhere that these blossoms are edible, and quite delicious; however, to find enough for more than just a little taste, one typically has to stumble across them fallen from the tree (or have access to the local ladder engine). This year, however, to my delight, one of the maple branches wast juuusst low enough to allow me to stand on a step-stool and pluck a solid few handfuls of the blossoms.
They fell away quite loosely, and were already sweet to the taste. I just popped the entire cluster off of the end of the branch. Each cluster of blossoms had about thirty tiny flowers covered in yellow pollen. A good few also had soft, underdeveloped leaves that would soon grow into the six-inch wide monsters that give the tree its name.
The entire cluster is edible, and if I’d had enough, I would have put some aside to use on a salad. The flavor is somewhat like honeysuckle crossed with the tiny inner leaves of the artichoke (which makes sense; the artichoke is also an undeveloped flower). They have a slight astringency– almost a “gaminess”– that adds depth to the taste.
I had about a cup and a half of blossoms. Since they’re so naturally sweet, I didn’t want to pickle them in straight white vinegar– I wanted to retain the sweet undertones. I used the following recipe, and the results were fantastic:
- 1 and 1/2 cup maple blossoms – stems and young leaves can be included
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp white sugar
1. Separate the blossoms from the stems and leaves. Retain all parts tender enough to eat.
2. Pack the blossoms/parts into a small (1/4 pint) jar or container. Since this is a quick-pickle that won’t be perserved (unless you can manage to find enough blossoms to make it worthwhile), the jar needs only be clean– no need to boil it or anything.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a simmer.
4. Pour the hot brine into the jar. Lid, and refrigerate.
That’s all there is to it! They should stay good for two weeks or so.
I’ve been enjoying these on salads, over rice, in stir-fry– a little go a long way. They’re the very definition of piquant, and if I had more, I’d try them on hot dogs instead of relish, or as a topping for a light and flaky pastry of some kind. Ah well; the window for harvesting these guys is pretty short, so now we’ll have to wait until next year.
Plus, as an added bonus this fall, when I’m out in the cold raking the hundreds and hundreds of enormous brown, wet leaves out of our yard, I can raise my fists towards the towering maples above and shout, “I HAVE EATEN YOUR YOUNG!”