Flowering tress are a brief, showy start of springtime; a stirring of the natural world that inspires optimism and awe. They make me think of the line from the Pablo Neruda poem, "I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."
In Japan, there are festivals focused on the blossoming of cherry trees, and the flowers are referred to as "Sakura." In Japan, they preserve cherry blossoms in salt and ume or plum vinegar and then use them for tea or mix them with rice. They also sometimes appear in desserts.
I couldn't resist trying to preserve a bit of this ephemeral beauty, Japanese style.
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Step 1: Add Salt
After you've harvested some cherry blossoms and a handful of leaves, rinse them off. Then put them in a bowl and pour salt over them. One cup of salt for about 10 cups of cherry blossoms.
Step 2: Add Water and Soak
Pour water over the salt, blossoms, and leaves until they are all covered. Put a plate or something heavier on them and let them soak for three days. The mixture should have a floral, cherry, almond-like scent to it by the end of three days.
Step 3: Ume Plum Vinegar
After three days, strain out the water. Discard the leaves and put the blossoms in a jar. Add plum vinegar, or ume to them until all the petals are covered. Store this in your fridge for three days.
Step 4: Dry the Petals
After three days of brining in the plum vinegar, set your petals out to dry. You can also put them in the oven at 200 degrees to dry them.
Step 5: Finish!
You'll have pickled, preserved flowers that have a really intense flavor to them. It's tart, floral, fruity and salty all at once. Some people don't like, others have a cult-like response to it. My favorite way of using the whole flowers so far is dropping one into rice vinegar and using it as a mignonette sauce for oysters.
I ground up some petals and added it 1:1 with flake salt.
Step 6: How to Use It
I'm still finding ways to use it. My favorite so far is putting it over Madagascar Vanilla ice cream by Three Twins with a drizzle of olive oil. I also put some on popcorn and it was delicious-sort of tangy.