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COOKING : A Rose by Any Other Taste . . .

March 11, 1993|PAT GERBER

Ah, springtime approaches! Time to stop and smell the roses . . . maybe even nibble a few.

Flowers, after all, do more than delight the eyes or perfume the air. They can also tickle the taste buds.

Consider a creamy sauce made from rose petals and spooned over scones, says chef George Geary of Fullerton.

"If you love the smell of roses, you'll love rose petal sauce," he says.

Or try scrunching up some fresh lavender flowers into an apple pie or apple crisp. "The scent of lavender while baking is really soothing," he said, also noting that it adds an interesting flavor to the whole production.

Geary, instructor and head pastry chef at Disneyland, occasionally teaches a class on edible flowers. Recipes range from the simple tossing of a few yellow, red or orange nasturtiums into a salad to deep-frying the nasturtiums in a tempura batter.

In his classes, Geary also features a recipe in which mustard plant blossoms are tossed into a chicken-meat mixture, which is then made into a tamale.

Then there are the elaborate flower cakes, about which Geary is something of an expert. Last year, he made Elizabeth Taylor's birthday cake for her extravaganza at Disneyland and decorated it with violets flown in from France. The cake, which was made in the shape of a queen's crown, took three days to complete--each flower had to be delicately placed on this creation with tweezers.

In his flower class, Geary teaches how to decorate fancy cakes in petals that have been brushed and crystallized with an egg-and-sugar mixture. It's a time-consuming but rewarding task, he promises.

Geary started researching recipes with edible flowers several years ago after reading that George Bush's inaugural dinner featured some. His chef's curiosity led him to an organic flower grower in Sebastopol in Northern California, who has become his chief supplier.

So why doesn't he just go out to the garden and pluck a few petals on demand? Ahh, that leads to some very important words of caution, which he outlines in course materials:

* All flowers are not edible. Some, such as bird of paradise, are downright poisonous.

* Among the edibles are bachelor's button, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, poppies (but only the petals please), wild violets (has to be wild, not regular), English lavender, rose petals (especially the highly scented Chrysler Imperial roses), marigolds and gladiolus, to name a few. Also, the blossoms of most fruit-bearing trees, before the fruit is produced, can be used.

* Don't use flowers that have been treated with regular pesticides. If you grow your own, best to start with seeds and use vegetable pesticides to control the bugs. And if you buy starter plants from the nursery, wait at least six full weeks before cooking with the petals (he says it takes that long for the nursery's pesticides to lose their toxicity).

* Don't use a florist's flowers; he says it's a sure bet they've been treated with pesticides.

* Wait until your flowers are in full bloom before harvesting.

George Geary is teaching his edible flowers class Monday, March 15, at 6:30 p.m. at the Crafty Kitchen, 15667 Brookhurst St., Westminster. The cost is $25. For reservations: (714) 531-9504. He is also scheduled to teach the class July 27 at Sherman Gardens and Library, Corona del Mar. For time and reservations: (714) 773-0136.

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