Status: Widespread, native to southeast and northeast U.S.
Where: Along streets and in gardens, forests, and parks
Season: Late spring
Parts Used: Flowers
One of the many excitements on a forager's calendar in late spring is the appearance of black locust blossoms (Robinia pseudoacacia). They appear just when roses and peonies are peaking in gardens. The trees (also known as acacia or false acacia) occur all over North America. You have to pick them the second you see them in bloom, while the flowers are fresh.
As with other scented edible flowers, I find the best way of capturing their sweet taste and scent is in either a cold-infused syrup (heat kills delicate flavors) or a fermented cordial. These then form the base for recipes whose limit is only the scope of your imagination.
The flowers themselves have a great texture. The pea-like blossoms are crunchy and sweet. I like them best raw, but I also enjoy them in the traditional European acacia fritter (see recipe, below). Like elderflower fritters, these are a rare treat. I drizzle them with honey infused with the fresh flowers overnight.
How to Collect and Prepare
Pick open flower clusters and collect them in a basket or paper bag. Make sure to select perfectly fresh flowers, ignoring bunches with withered blooms. The closed white buds are also good to eat but haven't yet developed the aroma suited to cordial or syrup.
Use them as soon as possible. Process flowers for infusions quickly, or the scent will dissipate. If you must, keep the fresh flowers in a paper bag overnight, folded tightly closed, but don't refrigerate. Washing them will dilute the scent, too, so just give them a shake to remove insects. If you're saving flowers for fritters or salads, the clusters will keep fresh for several days in a covered bowl or wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge.
Note: Kentucky yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) has very similar flowers, and blooms at the same time. Kentucky yellowwood leaflets are distinctly pointed at the tips, while black locust leaflets are rounder and more numerous.
Black Locust Fritters
Yields 4 servings.
A traditional dish in Europe, these fritters are often made with a beer batter. I prefer the crispness of hard apple cider.
- 3 ounces all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5-1/2 ounces hard apple cider, cold
- 5 ounces unscented oil
- 20 black locust flower clusters
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup honey, optional
- In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Whisk in the apple cider. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Test with a drop of the batter — if it floats and sizzles at once, the oil is hot enough.
- Dip each cluster of flowers into the batter, but don't drown them. Shake off the excess batter, and place in the skillet. Cook in batches, frying 5 or 6 clusters at a time. Cook for about 1 minute, then turn and cook for another minute, or until each side is dark gold. Remove and drain on paper towels.
- When all the clusters have been fried, pile them onto a serving plate, dust with the powdered sugar, and serve immediately. If you're using honey, drizzle it over them just before serving.
Learn about and discover more edible invasives to use in your seasonal cuisine:
- Cooking with Burdock Root and Stems
- Foraging and Cooking with Invasive Species
- How to Prepare and Cook Japanese Knotweed
Marie Viljoen is a forager, cook, and gardener in Brooklyn. Follow her at 66 Square Feet.
Reprinted with permission from Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisineby Marie Viljoen, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.