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Airy, Ethereal Cherry Blossoms: Catch Them While You Can

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Airy, Ethereal Cherry Blossoms: Catch Them While You Can

Marie Viljoen April 15, 2024

Who doesn’t love cherry blossoms? Even ardent native plant advocates can’t help but admire their uncomplicated optimism. While native woodlands and gardens are still quietly waking, showing no more than the pale effervescence of spicebush and the silver buds of serviceberry, the white and pink froth of ornamental cherry season rolls across the land, a great and beautiful gift whose roots are East Asian. After the long months of winter, and after the suspended weeks that are technically spring but hardly effusive, the wonder of their imported arboreal eruption catches us all like a sudden exhalation. We’ve been holding our breath.

Stand beneath the trees and wonder at their petals. And perhaps nibble one or two: These weeks taste like bitter almond and marzipan, and they will not last.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: Nanking cherries (Prunus tomentosa) bloom very early, on the heels of winter.
Above: Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ follows a light, late fall bloom with showers of early spring flowers.
Above: P. x subhirtella ‘Rosy Cloud’ behind (possible) P. yedoensis ‘Akebono’ at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Above: A weeping P. pendula ‘Yae-beni-shidare’.
Above: P. x yedoensis at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Above: The ruffled blooms of ‘Kanzan’ cherries are the last to open in spring’s cherry blossom sequence.
Above: Spring eggs, with cherry blossoms and chickweed.

Chew a cherry blossom. The first impression is one of delicacy, followed quickly by bitterness. After a couple of seconds that is replaced by a strong transition to almond essence. It is fleeting. But pairing the blossoms with ingredients that do not overwhelm their distinctive flavor yields some surprising results.

Above: Edible flowers transform treats into celebrations.
Above: Cherry blossom ice cubes in spring drinks.
Above: Salting cherry buds for three days preserves them and brings out their marzipan character.
Above: Cherry blossoms in mirin. Ohsawa Organic Mirin is $11.99 for 12.68oz.

To catch their almond essence, I like to cover cherry blossoms in a jar with good mirin, straining out the flowers after four days, and keeping the seasoned sweet condiment in the fridge. Drizzled across mild, crunchy salads the almond essence shines through. It also makes a startlingly effective dessert, spooned over austere silken tofu.

Above: Silken tofu with cherry blossom-infused mirin.
Above: Sliced Japanese cucumbers dressed with cherry blossom mirin and sesame seeds.
Above: A chunkier version of the same salad, with smashed cucumbers that macerated in the mirin for an hour.

Cucumber Cherry Blossom Salad

The salad can be left to macerate for an hour in the mirin mixture to develop its flavor. But add the sesame seeds and blossoms just before serving.

  • 1 Japanese or 5 Persian cucumbers
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds, pan-toasted
  • 3 Tablespoons cherry blossom mirin
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Wack the cucumbers with the back of a knife or a rolling pin to crush them lightly. Break them apart into chunks and place in a bowl. Crush the toasted sesame seeds roughly in a mortar. In a small bowl whisk together the other ingredients. Add the mirin mixture and the sesame seeds to the cucumber and toss well. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter across the cherry blossoms. Serve at once.

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