Debra Prinzing

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SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Cooking with Flowers, an interview with chef Miche Bacher of Mali B. Sweets (Episode 111)

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
Flower Cake Cover

Featured on the cover of “Cooking with Flowers” is Miche’s “Flowerfetti” Calendula Orange Cake. Flower petals are the “original cake confetti,” she maintains. Roses, dianthus, bachelor buttons and marigold petals adorn this enticing confection.

Today we’re going to talk about eating flowers.

Yes, flowers as food.

Hollyhock Clafouti

Hollyhock Clafouti, a cross between a custard, a pancake, and a puffy omelet. Uses 1 cup hollyhock petals.

I once had a big-time New York editor say to me: Why should I care about how flowers are grown, anyway? After all, we don’t eat them!

As a response to that challenge, I wish I had been able to pull out “Cooking with Flowers,” the most eye-satisfying book I’ve ever seen. It was created by Miche Bacher, an herbalist, chef, and founder of the custom confectionary studio Mali B Sweets.

To WIN a free copy of “Cooking with Flowers,” courtesy of Quirk Books, listen to to my interview with Miche and make a comment below about the best edible flower tip you learned. I will draw a winner at random on Tuesday, October 22nd at 5 p.m. Pacific.

I learned about this beautiful cookbook from Mari Malcolm, an editor at Amazon who absolutely loves “Cooking with Flowers.” Mari showed me the book’s beautiful cover on her phone screen during a lunch we had together this past spring.

I keep ordering this delectable book and then giving it away as a gift to my flower lover-friends. And now, it is my great pleasure to spend this episode of Slow Flowers in a floral-focused conversation with Miche.

Miche Bacher

Miche Bacher, herbalist, chef, and founder of the custom confectionary studio Mali B Sweets.

In her introduction, Miche writes:

“Flowers add color, complexity, and what I like to call the magical ‘what’s in it’ factor to your food. They are full of nutrients and often offer health benefits, too. You don’t have to be a master gardener or a trained chef to cook with flowers – once you start looking, you’ll realize edible blossoms are all around you, and it really is a breeze to use them.”

She is definitely a chef whose work begins in the garden. Through “Cooking with Flowers,” I’ve gained new inspiration for another important reason to appreciate local flowers.

I know you will learn much from my conversation with Miche, as we discuss her favorite culinary ingredients, including the lowly dandelion.

Fresh and candied lilac flowers are the captivating ingredient in Miche's "Coconut Lilac Tapioca," a recipe in her book, "Cooking with Flowers" [photo: (c) Miana Jun, used with permission]

Fresh and candied lilac flowers are the captivating ingredient in Miche’s “Coconut Lilac Tapioca,” a recipe in her book, “Cooking with Flowers” [photo: (c) Miana Jun, used with permission]  


4 tablespoons of dianthus petals, coarsely chopped, infuse this delicious cake that also includes 2/3-cup rose' wine. Dianthus whipped cream and candied dianthus flowers are a perfect embellisment. [photo: (c) Miana Jun, used with permission]

4 tablespoons of dianthus petals, coarsely chopped, infuse this delicious cake that also includes 2/3-cup rose’ wine. Dianthus whipped cream and candied dianthus flowers are a perfect embellisment. [photo: (c) Miana Jun, used with permission] 


Popcorn chive cupcakes

Popcorn Chive Blossom Cupcakes, a floral play on sweet and savory.

Here are some links we discussed in the interview:

Mali B’s Edible Flower Chocolate Collection:

candy bars

Edible Flower chocolate collection from Mali B Sweets, $30 for the set.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center LINK to Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products: 

Click here for MORE about COOKING WITH FLOWERS, including exclusive recipes that Miche couldn’t fit into the book. You’ll also find bonus recipes for the medicinal and cosmetic use of flowers, salves, oils, and teas for healing; download recipe cards and read a Q&A with this talented woman. 



A summer bouquet

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

A breathtaking display of sustainably-grown flowers - at Seattle's Ravenna Gardens. The bouquets were grown by our friends at Jello Mold Farms

 I’m back in Seattle as of about 10 days ago.

 Can’t quite believe it but being here feels pretty awesome. We’ve been sitting out on our front porch each evening, admiring the sunset, which is silhouetted behind the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound to the west.

 I am so torn between missing my beloved friends and garden in Los Angeles and the excitement I feel at being back in Seattle. I’ve been asking this question for four years: Is it possible to be in love with two places at the same time?

 As I ponder that “big thought,” I have had to squeeze in time to unpack (ugh), move furniture around to make room for everything in our smallish rental house, and bug my friend Jennifer to find the best dry-cleaner, dog kennel, ethnic restaurants, local grocery stores and more. Thank goodness our dear friends Jennifer and David (and their son Max, our son Alex’s BFF) live only 5 blocks from here. They are a godsend!  

Also, I’m working on two lectures for the upcoming Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago – scheduled to take place in a few weeks’ time. Ironically, earlier this week I spent 3 days in Chicago – as a would-be college freshman “mom,” for my son Ben’s orientation at DePaul University. What a cool city!

I’m looking forward to returning to Chi-town in a couple weeks where I will present a lecture on “Ideas from the country’s most inspiring garden centers” and “The female gardener” (with colleague Robin Avni). 

In preparation, I’ve been sorting slides and digital images to illustrate my talks. Robin and I met for several hours yesterday to work on our joint presentation, which taps into her trademarked “Mommy to Maven” consumer research. 

A close look at the many delicious ingredients in Diane and Dennis's bouquets

Hey, for $26 - it's a great deal! This vase is packed with pretty!

Yesterday, I also stopped by one of my favorite emporiums, Ravenna Gardens.

Owner Gillian Mathews told me that each Friday her shop receives deliveries of local and sustainably-grown bouquets from Mount Vernon flower farmers Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall of Jello-Mold Farms (they grow gorgeous blooms in a farming community about 90 minutes north of Seattle). 

Ravenna Gardens places each one-of-a-kind bunch of blooms in a glass Mason jar, presenting customers with some of the most charming arrangements around. I couldn’t resist bringing one home with me yesterday. It’s sitting on my desk to cheer me up each time I look at it.

I sent a note to Diane to ask about the hard-to-ignore jumbo poppy pod – the largest I’ve ever seen! Here’s her explanation: 

A couple of years ago Melissa from Terra Bella handed me a few stems of the chubby poppy (definitely a variety of Papaver somniferum) which she had purchased at the local wholesale house. They had gotten a little old so she couldn’t use them for floral work. I was able to dry them and get viable seed and those are their grandchildren. 

That plump pod is a focal point of the bouquet, which also includes Phlox paniculata ‘Natural Feelings ; Scabiosa caucasica ‘Dark Knight’; and Sedum ‘Green Expectations’, ‘Frosty Morn’ and ‘Autumn Joy’. Blue-green Baptisia australis foliage complements the design. What a mid-summer dream! 

I’m going to enjoy these flowers for days – and it makes me happy to have that vase on my desk just knowing they were grown locally using earth-friendly practices.

Organic flowers: A fresh bouquet

Friday, July 17th, 2009
A glorious English rose, photographed in Skagit Valley on a summer day

A glorious English rose, photographed in Skagit Valley on a summer day

Flowers lovers understand me when I talk about the disconnect that’s going on between the demand for organically-grown food and the miniscule desire for organically-grown flowers. I guess the argument goes: As long as I’m not EATING those flowers, why should I be bothered that a few chemicals were used on them in the field or after they were harvested?

Gardeners and flower fanatics alike have Amy Stewart and Flower Confidential to thank for heightening our awareness of this contradiction. The idea that we can enjoy the beauty of a bouquet’s stems and blooms while knowing that the growing process may have harmed the earth and those who grew the flowers is crazy! How can we honestly enjoy flowers in our homes or as symbols of our most sentimental occasions when they were drenched in chemicals or shipped thousands of miles on a jet flying across the ocean?

Thankfully, there is a burgeoning “slow flower” movement afoot, and I urge you to join me as we use our pocketbooks and consumer influence to encourage reversal of flower-growing practices that use herbicides, pesticides and non-organic fertilizers. I hope the momentum continues and becomes an ever-present conversation between flower purveyors and flower consumers. I can’t tell you how many times I witness friends ask a waiter if the fish on the menu was “wild catch” or “farm raised.” Similarly, when I buy flowers, I want to know: Were they were grown organically?

”]From our piece in Sunset: Erin with her son Jasper [David Perry photograph]In addition to the essays in Flower Confidential, I have Erin Benzakein to thank for my education about seasonal, sustainable and local flower-growing. Erin owns floret flowers, a Mount Vernon, Wash.-based micro-farm where she uses organic practices to raise beautiful, unusual blooms for bouquets, floral designers and wedding clients. Erin is featured in a recent issue of Sunset magazine, along with my short Q-and-A and a gorgeous photograph by David Perry.

For David and me, the desire to meet, interview, photograph and document organic flower growers has been under our skin for a few years now. Other creative projects, family demands, and sheer marketplace apathy have slowed us slightly. But we both keep returning to the subject of organic flowers. I can’t let go of the notion that this is an important topic – one that needs to be shared in order to educate, inform, inspire and – change – the relationship people have with the flowers.

While in the Northwest two weeks ago, I had a wonderful chance to visit yet another organic flower farm: Jello Mold Farm. The project of Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall  is an example of priorities put into practice for a commercial venture. As they write on their beautiful web site (you’ll see many of David’s photographs there), “Our flowers are safe to sniff.”

My cohort, David, an amazing photographer with whom I’ve been on this occasional journey, drove me north to Skagit Valley. We had a few stops along the way, including a sandwich at a cool roadside deli and a quick visit to Christianson’s Nursery to feast our eyes upon the cottage borders (Christianson’s is one of my favorite charming places – where plants happily coexist with weathered farm buildings).

David Perry, Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall at Jello Mold Farm

David Perry, Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall at Jello Mold Farm

We arrived at Diane and Dennis’s place as they came home from a day of making deliveries to customers in the Seattle area. They deliver a heady array of fresh, field-cut flowers every Monday and Thursday to Seattle area designers, event planners and retail florists.

Time to sit down for a cold one and a good gab around the kitchen table, as we all got to know one another and talk about the flower biz.

Here are some snippets from our four-way conversation. It will give you a flavor for the longer feature story we want to publish about them:

+First things first. The name Jello Mold Farm is a curious one that always invokes a question. It is an offshoot of Diane and Dennis’s gardening business, Jello Mold Landscape, which got its name from a crazy building in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood that Diane once covered with 400 copper-hued jello molds of all shapes and patterns. Read that history here.

Jello Mold Farm, fields, and barn

Jello Mold Farm, fields, and barn

+Diane and Dennis have converted an 8-acre farm and its former horse pastures into a bountiful flower farm. They grow 150 varieties of blooms . . . with many, many more on the way.

+After years of estate gardening, Diane yearned to put her energy into a venture that combined her obsession for plants and her values. “I needed to do something else with my energy for my living. (Estate gardening) doesn’t fully feed my soul.”

+They started selling flowers last year and 2009 is their first season to have scheduled deliveries to wholesale customers. Diane emails an “availability list” to a growing group of flower buyers twice a week.

+In Seattle, you can find their flowers at Best Buds (Madison Park), Ballard Market, and several floral studios, including Terra Bella, an organic florist in the Greenwood District.

+They like to use the term “sustainably grown,” rather than organic. “Quality is our best calling card,” Diane says. “Fresh and local sells.”

Rows upon rows of flowers ready to cut

Rows upon rows of flowers ready to cut

+This is hard work, requiring 14 to 16 hour days. “There’s a whole romantic idea that we are so lucky to work on a flower farm,” Dennis admits. “People have no idea how hard we work.” Yet the couple believes they can make a decent living growing flowers rather than food, a lesson they learned after volunteering with a local CSA farmer. “There’s no way we could make a mortgage growing food,” Dennis points out.

+Making bouquets is extremely time-consuming, so Jello Mold often sells straight bunches of a single type of flower, such as dahlias. But when they do make bouquets, “I always try and put in something unique, to create a following,” Diane says. As an example, she showed me a simple bouquet with five dark pink peonies gathered within a pillow of lime-colored Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s-Mantle). They also use a lot of food in their bouquets, like berries, vines and fruiting branches.

A stray allium puts a smile on my face

A stray allium puts a smile on my face

+Organic growers are not able to command a higher price for their cut flowers. They have to meet the same market prices charged by growers using standard, non-sustainable practices.

+Slowly, over time, this may change. But only when consumers value the health benefits (to themselves and to the planet) of bringing home an organic, sustainably-grown bouquet. “It’s in the food movement already,” Diane says. It’s only a matter of time for the floral trade (and their customers) to catch up.

+This is an emotion-based business. One of passion and conviction. Diane and Dennis take delight in seeing people make an emotional connection to their flowers. They want to take care to grow sustainably in a world where such practices don’t make financial sense to larger growers.  “Ours is a better way to grow a business,” Diane says.

It was so hard to leave with our conversation just getting started. But I’m inspired and encouraged to know these new friends. And to know they are living their passion and convictions every day.