All of a sudden, our vegetable garden is growing! No fruits or veggies yet, of course, but tall green stalks, rapidly spreading leaves, and flowers. Do you know how people often talk about how children need to learn that food doesn't come from the grocery store? Well, apparently, I'm such children. I'm embarrassed to admit that, despite high school biology, it never occurred to me that strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, and squash produce flowers. And had it occurred to me, I would never have guessed how beautiful they are! Here are a few of our many yellow squash blossoms:
They have a gorgeous orangey-yellow color, an exotic shape, and a zesty, zucchini-like fragrance. Of course, when they popped up, we had no idea what to do. Jim wondered if they should be trimmed to channel energy into growth, and I wondered if they were a sign that we had done something wrong. (Before you think I'm totally paranoid, be advised that all the plants started turning yellow a few weeks ago and we realized that our soil was dangerously nitrogen-deficient. Thanks to Miracle-Gro, we're back on track.) So we turned to Google, and the happy answer (which you may already know), is that squash blossoms are a healthy squash offspring and are considered something of a delicacy because they are edible and too short lived to make it to the store.
And so, I started looking up recipes. I found squash blossom soups, quesadillas, and tons of authentic Mexican recipes for deep frying them. I bookmarked this yummy-looking recipe for stuffing them with ricotta and honey and baking them in chocolate cake crumbs. But, as I've mentioned, I don't get super-excited about cooking lately, so I sat on it for a few days and then remembered an article about making fruit and herb soaps from the April issue of Martha Stewart Living. (The article doesn't seem to be on line, but one of Martha's creative geniuses posted about it here). I thought that the squash blossoms' color would seep into the soap beautifully, and it really did. I especially love that the variations in the flower were captured in the bars--the dark orange and green as well as the yellow petal color.
The best part about this project, however, is that Big Brother was able to do almost the entire thing with me. He helped cut the blossoms (as well as the spearmint we used to make our second batch), picked leaves apart from stems, pressed the buttons on the food processor, stirred puree into soap base, and helped me pour the mixture into molds. It was a wonderful way to teach him about the unexpected blessings of gardening, color, and even a little basic chemistry...plus, he loved the food processor. And the smell of pureed spearmint:).
The basic gist of the procedure is that you clean the flowers/herbs, cut off their stems, and then throw everything in the food processor. When the flowers are pureed to your liking, you place them in a few layers of coffee filter to dry.
As the puree dries, you heat small blocks of glycerin (I bought mine at Michaels) in thirty second intervals in the microwave until melted. Then you spoon in puree, beginning with a ratio of one teaspoon per cup of glycerin, and stir as color seeps into the liquid. Once you achieve your desired color, you pour the mixture into molds greased with cooking spray (we used a mold purchased from Michaels, a recycled cream carton, and a juice box). Then you let the molds sit for approximately half an hour and afterwards move them to the freezer for two more hours. And, voila!
Our soaps turned out so beautifully that Little Brother thought they were dessert and begged me for one to the point of tears this evening. Poor guy. Big Brother is planning to take a few bars to school today for his teachers (thus the wrapping in that first pic)...here's hoping that he remembers what we did to make them. It sure seemed like he was having fun!