Don’t fritter away opportunity.
I never pass up the prospect of a perfect picking or forgo a chance for a floral feast. This week, black locust trees are in bloom, and with the appearance of their flowers comes more than just a snazzy scent.
Black locusts are large (by Vineyard standards) trees with deep furrowed bark. It isn’t surprising that they don’t fit in here, since they are native to more southern climes, such as the wilds of Appalachia. Brought here mainly for their value to farmers as fast-growing, hot-burning, rot-resistant wood, black locust trees found an Island niche.
Identifying them is easy. In addition to the unique bark, look for their compound leaves with up to 19 leaflets on one stem and large, creamy white flowers that hang in clusters called racemes. Black locust flowers droop seductively and beckon the foraging foodie.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, it is not too late to enjoy the sweet pickings. Black locust trees bloom for only about 10 days, and they are at their tastiest early in their bloom cycle. If you are going to partake, here are a few clues to find flawlessly ripe flowers for eating.
Pick early — just before all of the flowers open is a good time. Once they are all open, they begin to lose their scent and their flavor. If their smell is gone, then flower perfection has passed. Taut, full flowers are best; once the flower edges are wrinkled or shriveled, it is too late. Also look for the yellow spot on the center of each flower. A bright yellow spot signals a perfect pick, but if the spot has dulled, leave it on the tree. Flowers that are freckled or have fallen on the ground should be avoided, as they are bitter and will leave a figurative and literal bad taste in your mouth.
Though the flower’s heavy jasmine scent is enough to entice, consider the many possibilities to incorporate them into your meal plan. Straight off the tree and into your mouth can be perfect for an off-the-cuff appetizer. Russ Cohen, wild food aficionado, describes the flower’s taste as “pea pods dipped in honey.”
Then there is the fritter. For brunch try your favorite recipe with freshly gathered locust flowers, or add them to salads for a sweet surprise. Quench your thirst by infusing these flowers in water or lemonade, syrup, or wine. Smoothies are sweeter with a handful of flowers thrown in, and black locust flower jam would complement many meals.
At dinnertime, one creative cook incorporated these flowers into fettuccine alfredo cream sauce, and another added them into homemade chicken soup. Don’t forget dessert. Make black locust flower ice cream or custard and freeze any extra flowers for later use.
Resist the urge to taste the leaves, bark or pods of this plant: These are all poisonous. And please leave some flowers for our flying friends. Bees adore them and the black locust honey that they produce is a sought-after variety. Hummingbirds are also fond of their nectar. No creature should squander the gifts of the locust trees. With its delectable potential, do whatever you can to find the locus of the locusts.
American writer Charles Swindoll suggested that “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” Such is the case with black locust flowers, as the hardest part will be reaching those high hanging flowers. Be persistent, your reward will be sweet.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.