Pickled Magnolia Flowers
One of the biggest challenges for the forager, once you get past the initial ‘learning what won’t kill you’ stage, is developing new flavor profiles. Foraged greens tend towards the bitter, and wild berries aren’t always as strongly sweet as the berries we buy in plastic boxes from the grocery store.
It’s rare, therefore, to find condiments discussed in the modern foraging literature (although indigenous peoples always found ways to use wild foods as flavor agents).
Sometimes, however, you get surprised!
Some friends have an enormous magnolia tree in their front yard. Not one hundred percent on the species, but most of us know for magnolias. They’re beautiful, majestic, large-flowered, and a HUGE MESS. Not only do they shed petals more prodigiously than my dog sheds hair onto our new couches, but the leathery leaves take forever to break down into compost. What, we all wondered, could “redeem” this plant beyond its aesthetic appeal?
As it turns out, a little digging led us to the fascinating knowledge that the flowers of the magnolia are edible, and wonderful when pickled! The young leaves can also be used to season soups and stews, and have a distinctly floral appeal.
Granted, you’re not likely to find “wild magnolias” in most of the U.S., so you may need to “forage” these by asking a friendly neighbor. However, this is an excellent reminder that determining how to use foraged ingredients is often a matter of doing some research and using your imagination.
First, gather approximately five cups of magnolia petals (actually petals and sepals, but who’s keeping track?), removed from the flower. The younger ones are nicer fresh, added to salads, but if you’re going to pickle them a few older ones won’t hurt anything.
The next steps are super simple. Clean the petals, add to a container of your choice, packed tightly, and cover in apple cider vinegar. This allows you to measure exactly how much vinegar you’ll need.
Pour the vinegar out into a small saucepan and simmer. Add one tablespoon of salt, and two tablespoons of sugar. When dissolved, pour the hot brine back into the container.
Cover, and refrigerate for at least one week.
No matter how tightly packed, your flowers will float, so shake it around a few times. Eventually, the brine will turn a beautiful pinkish red. This photo doesn’t do it justice:
Now remember, this is meant to be a condiment. It looks a little like pickled ginger, and has a similar consistency and ‘spiciness’:
It’s fantastic on sandwiches (burgers and hot dogs), added to cold noodles, used on tacos, added to salads (like this spicy radish salad with fermented jalapenos):