In this special interview, Jo and Erin talk about everything – how to use edible flowers, cooking tips for busy families, time spent at Ballymaloe Cookery School (Cork), sampling delicious food at The Misunderstood Heron in Connemara plus how we can spoil our mams on this Mother’s Day and every day! Read on…
Jo and Erin, and ‘The Edible Flower,’ in their own words
We are Jo (an organic gardener and teacher) and Erin (a cook, recipe developer and food stylist) – together we run The Edible Flower, a 7-acre organic small holding in Co. Down. We run supper clubs, cooking and growing workshops, volunteer days and a CSA (community supported agriculture) scheme called Farm & Feast. Our first book The Edible Flower: A modern guide to growing, cooking and eating edible flowers was published on 9th March 2023 by Laurence King.
Our mission is to grow and cook truly sustainable, delicious food – for the customer, grower, and the planet. To connect ourselves and our community to the soil, the seasons, and our food. And to bring joy and beauty while doing all the above!
The joy of using edible flowers – from rose and lavender to courgette blossoms
Edible flowers are widely used in many cultures around the world. I think as humans we are intrinsically attracted to flowers – they bring beauty and joy and often have special cultural and spiritual significance too. It’s natural that when they are edible, and often very flavourful, we’d want to bring them onto our plates too.
It's also worth remembering that almost all the plants we eat are flowering plants – everything from wheat and rice to courgettes and tomatoes, flowers create our food. And we are often eating flowers even when we aren’t thinking about it – cauliflower and broccoli are both flowers!
We particularly love the use of courgette blossoms and hibiscus flowers in Mexican cuisine and the use of rose and lavender in Moroccan food – both of which are reflected in the recipes in the book.
Mother’s Day – saying thank you with the help of a lovingly cooked meal
Cook with love and care and that will come across in whatever meal you create. I always think breakfast in bed is a real treat. It doesn’t have to be complicated - it can be as simple as making eggs on toast or putting together a breakfast tray with some bought pastries, a pot of coffee and a few flowers in a little vase.
But if you do want to make something a little more challenging there are some gorgeous recipes in our book The Edible Flower that would be perfect for Mother’s Day. I’d make the slow roast lamb with lavender, lemon and apricots and serve it with the roasted carrots with lavender and orange. And then finish off with the parsnip and primrose cake.
Cooking is an act of love – let everyone pitch in
I think everyone in the family, who is capable, should help with the unpaid work that’s involved in running a home, and that includes cooking, shopping, setting the table and washing up. I think we have different seasons in our lives and at certain points those responsibilities might fall more heavily on some family members – perhaps because others are working longer hours or are doing more childcare. But it’s important that there is a balance, and everyone feels valued in their roles and responsibilities.
I also think cooking is one of the more fun household tasks – I mean I would say that as I’m a cook. I think it’s great to children involved in cooking and it gives them a really useful life skill too.
Tips for busy parents and multitasking families
In terms of tips for cooking wholesome and time efficient meals the freezer is your friend. Double or triple freezer-friendly recipes and then you will have handy meals for busier days or when you don’t fancy cooking. Favourite freezer meals are Thai curries, soups and bean stews. I love our rice cooker for cooking rice and other grains without having to stand over the stove – and it keeps the grains warm too which is great if not everyone is eating together.
Making good use of what we find in Irish gardens and countryside
I think readers would be surprised by how many flowers are edible and delicious. We cover 30 flowers that grow well in Ireland in The Edible Flower and that is only the beginning.
Some of our favourites are hawthorn and elderflower from the hedgerows and lavender, chamomile, nasturtiums, and cornflowers from our garden.
Magnolia is in bloom now and is so delicious, it has a spicy, gingery flavour.
We love to dry lavender when it is in bloom. Just bunch up the stalks with a paper bag over the flowers and hang upside down somewhere warm and dry. The lavender can then be used all year to flavour lamb or chicken (the flavour is similar to rosemary) or to add to cakes or biscuits.
Training and time spent at the acclaimed Ballymaloe Cookery School (Cork)
Erin: I loved my time at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I did the three-month cookery course in January 2015. The school is set on a 100-acre organic farm and there is such a close connection between the kitchens and the farm – all the ingredients are used in season, and everything is so fresh and delicious. It makes the cook’s job an easy one!
It really made me appreciate how connecting cooking for events to the produce that is growing on site is absolutely magical. Darina Allen, who runs the school is such a champion of Irish food and local, seasonal, organic produce. And she is so generous with her knowledge. An inspiration! I learnt so much in my time there, including how to use edible flowers in my cooking. It definitely shaped the approach to our business.
Food – always bringing people together
Our whole ethos is about bringing people together over good food.
We live in a world with depressing statistics about the decline of actual cooking in the home, and the decline of the communal meal (even just a close family meal, let alone an extended community extravaganza). Yes, people still have dinner parties, people go out to restaurants, but it’s just not quite the same.
For us, supper clubs, the feasts we incorporate into our Farm & Feast Saturdays and even our volunteer lunches are the modern world equivalent of those joyous community food-based gatherings and festivals that were perhaps more common in the past.
I think those family feast aspirations influence the style of food we cook. We could never cook minimalist, highly paired-back, fancy food. Yes, our produce is the highest quality we can find, and yes, everything will be delicious, bold, vibrant, subtle, and brilliant, but it also must be plentiful, fun – informal in style and ultimately a celebration of food.
Favourite places and food memories in Ireland
When we were aged 20 (Jo) and 21 (Erin) – almost 20 years ago now – we travelled around the whole of Ireland for about 6 weeks in a VW campervan. Ireland is so beautiful and when you are camping I feel like you can really connect with the environment. On that trip we tried to visit as many ancient sites as we could – veering off country tracks to follow brown signs to wedge tombs and standing stones. We spent quite a lot of time tramping across fields! Dún Aonghasa (the pre-historic fort on Inis Mor, one of the Aran islands) is particularly memorable as is Grianan of Aileach in Donegal. But we also loved the less well-known tombs and stones, where there were often no other visitors so it felt like you could really connect to the past.
More recently we visited an amazing food truck – The Misunderstood Heron – set in the most majestic location on Killary Fjord in Connemara. The food is creative, local and just fabulous. And the location is breath-taking. It feels like a real hidden gem!
Recipes from The Edible Flower