Did you know magnolias are edible? I love magnolias. They are such a large and beautiful flower, they were actually one of the first I learned how to make out of gum paste and were part of some award winning cakes of mine in high school. Well, it’s spring and that means trees and other plants start blooming and one of the first that comes out here in Missouri is magnolia!
Back in California, there weren’t too many magnolia trees. I did have a neighbor around the corner from where I lived that had a white magnolia tree. It had these gorgeous, large, white flowers that would dot the tree throughout the whole year and I loved seeing it on walks. Missouri on the other hand, magnolias are everywhere. I see multiple in the neighborhood, driving around the area there are plenty in yards and in parks, and the best part is spring when they bloom. Once the weather started getting a little warmer, the first flowers started to come out.
All around you can find these trees draped in large pink flowers and they are so gorgeous compared to the magnolia trees I’m used to. The best part though is they are edible! I follow a forager, Alexis Nikole, on Instagram and love learning more about native wildlife and the invasive species that you can harvest just in your back yard. With the recent bloom, I learned through her that magnolia petals are edible and boy did I want to get my hands on some.
First thing I needed to do was find where to get some. Of course I could ask neighbors about harvesting some from their trees but with Covid and staying apart, I don’t like to just go up to someone’s door these days. A couple weeks ago though, I stopped by my sister’s house to check on her dog and while going out back with him (it was one of the first gorgeous, sunny, and warm days) I found a large blooming magnolia tree. Immediately I texted her that I didn’t know she had a magnolia tree to which she responds, “is that what that is?”
I knew this was meant to be. I had my source and now it was time to collect. I grabbed a bowl from her kitchen and started looking for young buds or barely open flowers. The petals even once opened are still edible but I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to make and wanted some buds to use for anything. With a bowl full of petals and a Silas man happy with being outside with me so long, I was ready to head home and make something new with my harvest!
Online there are a few things I’ve seen made with magnolia petals. The flavor of the petals is a bit ginger-y in flavor with a little floral undertone which was lovely to use. I ended up making two main bases to work with, magnolia syrup and magnolia vinegar. Let’s talk about how I made them.
Magnolia Simple Syrup
1 part Granulated Sugar
1 part Water
Large Bunch Magnolia Petals
In a medium sized pot, mix equal parts water and sugar.
Place over high heat and bring to a boil.
Once sugar has dissolved and syrup is boiling, turn off heat and add the magnolia petals.
Allow mixture to sit and cool together either in the pot or in an airtight container.
Once cooled, use syrup as desired and puree petals to make magnolia “jam”.
White Wine Vinegar
In a small pot, bring vinegar to a simmer.
While vinegar is heating, pack magnolia petals into a heat safe, airtight jar or container.
Once vinegar is simmering, pour over petals and seal. Allow to cool before using.
` The heat of the syrup and vinegar will make the petals shrivel up, but the liquid will get a gorgeous pinkish color. Once cooled, I was ready to figure out what to make with them.
The vinegar I honestly haven’t done anything with. It’s acidic and shelf stable so I’m okay with it hanging out for a bit until I make a dressing or other dish with it. The simple syrup on the other hand is something that can easily spoil so I knew I needed to use it up. Knowing that ginger and floral flavors go great with berries, I figured a nice strawberry sorbet would be a great way to use it up and get a delicious frozen dessert to have on hand when it gets hot outside!
Sorbet is a tricky thing to get a great consistency. You want to get a nice mixture of sugar and fruit solids that will inhibit the ice formations so that it is soft and creamy straight from the freezer. I love making sorbet out of strawberry and mango because they have a lot of fruit pulp to make a nice consistency. I also just love strawberries so this was the perfect fruit to start with! The other factor is sugar. Too little and the ice forms and the sorbet is hard. Too much and it will be super soft and way too sweet. That’s when a handy refractometer comes to the rescue.
I got my refractometer for like $25 years ago online. It’s a simple device that looks like a small kaleidoscope. It measures Brix, or in other words, sugar content. Sorbet works well in the range of 26-32% sugar depending on the other ingredients. Since I was using whole fruit I knew I could keep it low and get a great texture.
After thawing frozen strawberries in a pot (too bad my strawberries bushes are still small and don’t have a lot of fruit!) I used my immersion blender to puree and get a smooth consistency. I really wanted to get a good magnolia flavor so I also added the used petals from the syrup that were nice and soft now and blended them into the strawberry puree. From there I started adding syrup. After adding half I checked the sugar content with my refractometer, I don’t remember what it was exactly but I needed more syrup. I kept adding, blending and checking until I was just over 26Brix. This ended up leaving only a couple tablespoons of syrup left but that’s fine. I needed to use it up!
With sorbet mixed and ready to go I just had to freeze it up! A couple batches in the machine and I now have two quarts of Strawberry Magnolia Sorbet. The consistency is nice and soft and a bit fluffy which I just love. The strawberry is delicious and has a slight ginger flavor to it from the magnolias. It’s so good and I can’t wait for a hot summer day to sit on the deck and enjoy this treat.
The remaining syrup was used in some tea and was a perfect way to start this time of year where things are growing and I can start being outside more. I’m not quite sure what I should make with the vinegar at this point but the ginger flavor would be great in a salad dressing. I may try to make an aioli or mayo with it for a good sandwich! For now though, I need to try to get some more petals before they all go for the season!