My first fine dining experience happened when I was an ignorant 20-year-old. I had managed to save enough cash from my job as a server in my dorm’s dining hall to take my girlfriend (known from that year on as She Who Was Crazy) out for a fancy dinner. After some research I settled on L’Espalier, which was (and still is) recognized as one of Boston’s best restaurants.
As soon as we were seated I realized I was completely out of my comfort zone, terrified and certain that at any moment I would be advised I was using the wrong fork for my salad course. That I was soon put at ease is a testament to L’Espalier’s well-deserved reputation for outstanding customer service. I managed to relax by the time I was finishing my dessert, something chocolate with a crème anglaise and an artful arrangement of orange flowers. Our server, noticing my untouched garnish, asked “Do you not like the tiger lily buds?”
Here comes the humiliation I thought, as I asked “They’re edible?”
“Yes, they have a delicate orange flavor. They’re quite delicious.”
I was sure he was screwing with me, but under his (and SWWC’s) expectant gaze, I tried one. He was right, they tasted of orange. I found myself wishing I still had a bit of the chocolate to accompany the buds. I remember nothing else about that meal, but I have always been able to recall the taste of those flowers.
* * *
A few years ago one of my neighbors – I call him The Mayor of Columbus Avenue – convinced me to tear out the privet hedges that surrounded Chez Belm and replace them with lower-maintenance plantings. He donated cuttings from the hostas he grew in his garden, which I have supplemented every year with a new varietal or two. His Honor, being too old to get on his knees and help, provides horticultural supervision punctuated with jabs of his walking stick. While supervising my recent weeding session, he said “I see the day lilies are really thriving.”
Ignoring the rare compliment, I asked “What do you mean, day lilies?”
“That’s the other name for hostas. It’s what we used to call them when I was younger.”
As I looked at a yard full of flowering hostas, I was once again reminded of a decades-old dessert.
I pinched off a just-opened bud and ate it. Sure enough, I could taste a faint orange note underneath the vegetal crunch. I had a yard full of garnishes, but a narrow window to use them before the blooms dropped off.
I had a pear tart friends brought to a recent dinner party, some chocolate ganache in the fridge (don’t you?), and white plum sorbet in the freezer. After a quick trip outside to harvest some flowers (from the “Captain Kirk” cultivar, for maximum geek cred), I plated this fine dessert:
The taste of the flower was almost overwhelmed by the tart sorbet, but was clearly detectable when eaten with the tart. I’ll have to come up with a few more flavor combinations that would work with this garnish.
If you have hostas, I recommend that you give the buds a try. I promise I’m not screwing with you.