In my opinion, the end of summer is probably one of the most exciting times in cooking. There are vegetables that are nearing the end of their seasons and so many things happening in every single inch of any garden. To me, as a chef, this is a time to slow down and focus on what is coming into season to work over the next two months, but it’s also time to focus on how to capture what is still available and at its best in summer. Like our Marigold flowers, great for honey bees and one of my most inspiring to me as a chef.
I think our Marigold is an underrated flower that can elevate your home cooking and brighten up your whole day.
If there is one flower that encapsulates every single part of summer for me, from its colour to its abundance and most of all its scent, it’s the Marigold – which is part of the sunflower family and is in full bloom at the moment – and definitely something that I as a chef want to use to its full potential, from gorgeous cooling teas to cakes.
What’s In and What’s Out
There are certain ingredients in summer such as tomatoes and aubergines that you really have to capitalize on when they are at their peak. Aubergines are fleshy with a much sweeter flavour this time of the year, and because of all the sun they also cook to a much better texture, you could almost say more meaty, so to really capture that and carry it over to the next season when they are not available I focus on a few processes in the restaurant. We call this time the “What’s in and what’s out” method where we see what is going out of season and capture it before its gone to showcase it somewhere when you would not be able to pick it fresh from your garden. For example the aubergines we turn into chutneys with lots of red onion and ginger or ferment them with lemon grass and create super flavour bombs that can easily elevate any dish or sauce to something that you would simply not be able to re-create by using anything else. This process takes time, knowledge and a lot of patience, but it is truly so rewarding being able to access out of season ingredients and use them to elevate something.
So with Marigolds in the “what’s in what’s out” method, we focus on making powders, ferments, infusions, kombuchas and so many other things. If you take a marigold and really look at it, put it up to your nose and breath in deep, it truly has the most amazing scent. I think of hot summer days by the pool with home brewed ice teas made with lots of fresh Marigold petals, mint and prickly pear juice if you have.
The flower is easily grown by any novice gardener and could really start adding such depth to your kitchen and pantry. I think the best way to start using these is fresh. The smell and aroma lends itself very well to certain foods, and works very well with acidity and sweetness. Something like a cold prawn salad with Fresh Avocado, watermelon and a dressing made with garlic, ginger, chilli lime juice, soy and then finished with hand-full of the fresh marigold petals elevating everything in your salad; it has a way of rather than dominating flavours really picking them up and it almost makes things taste like it has been extracted to give off its maximum potential.
And it is not at all out of place in something sweet. You can very simply rub a hand full of this amazing flower into white sugar and leave it for a few days the flavour and aroma for an exquisite marigold infused sugar which will change the way you drink you’re tea forever.
The flower dries amazingly well and keeps a lot of its aroma, even when dried it, and it can then be turned into a beautiful powder to dust over a fresh lemon sponge cake or maybe to finish off some beautiful light gooseberry crumpets. It is a flavour that compliments the simplest of things. Test it out by finishing a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream with some toasted salted almonds and some fresh or dried marigold petals…it just works.
The flower also holds amazing health benefits and when simply dried and added to some hot water with some mint and basil and maybe a touch of honey you get an amazing simple, tasty and healthy tea. This flower brews very well and added to your favourite gin, Kombucha or tea it will really bring a completely different depth to it.
I cannot see myself not using this ingredient in so many things freshly picked – over a piece of grilled fish with lemon dressed courgettes and toasted macadamias, or dried and made into a powder to dust over freshly picked and lightly dressed coss lettuce with a pesto made from basil, Marigolds and parmesan.
And definitely infused into warm honeys and brews. I think our Marigold is an underrated flower that can elevate your home cooking and brighten up your whole day.
Schalk Vlok is Executive Chef at a celebrated Stellenbosch wine estate. He is passionate about the role and value honey bees play in his unique creations, memorable and nourishing menus with meals that enhance our experience of food.
Tea photo & styling by Kayleigh-Sue Sutherland, a baker extraordinaire, who pairs starters, mains and deserts with wines in a way that brings them alive on another level.
Apple & Pear Crumble photo by Digby Puttergill-Pearce