My aunt Mae [Dad's sister] is a Cordon Bleu chef, and she’s always preparing all sorts of wonderful gourmet meals, baking wonderful breads, or preparing all sorts of delightful treats, both savoury and sweet. Our love of good food runs deep in the family, since my Grandmother [her mother] was also a great cook [having obtained a culinary diploma from the Cordon Bleu school by correspondence no less!], as was my Great-Grandmother before her. Solange, Dad’s younger sister who lives next door to my parents, and her husband are also fabulous cooks. On my Mother’s side of the family, my mother, and most of my aunts and uncles are excellent cooks, and one of her sisters is also a Cordon Bleu gourmet cook ♥ so it’s no wonder I grew up with a love of good food and cooking!
But back to my aunt Mae [whom I affectionately call Mimi] who arrived last week for a visit with her husband. They live on the family farm in the beautiful part of Québec known as La Gaspésie. When they visit, they always come laden with wonderful homemade goodies, so it’s a little bit like Christmas! ♥
Three of the many delightful items she brought this time were some of her home-smoked, freshly caught mackerel filets, tiny, marinated Ox-eye daisy buds [or "boutons de marguerites marinés" en Français], and beautiful crystallised lilac flowers [or "lilas cristallisées" en Français] picked from her lilac bushes.
My family has used fresh flowers in food ever since I can remember. My Mother would pick tiny pansies, forget-me-nots [myosotis], rose petals, the flowers and seeds of her pretty yellow and orange garden nasturtiums [known as Capucine in French], and others, using them in a variety of ways such as in salads, ice cubes, drinks, baking, and as a garnish. But despite having always had sunny Ox-eye daisies in our garden, my association with this lovely flower was more with the game of “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” than in food!
Ox-eye daisies, a variety of chrysanthemum known as chrysanthemum leucanthemum or œleucanthemum vulgare, grow wild just about everywhere in Canada and Europe, and even in the temperate regions of Asia. But I’d never heard of, or seen, these gorgeous little marinated daisy buds before.
The little buds, once marinated, are also known as Ox-eye daisy capers, and are used in pretty much the same way as capers. They are the tiny, unopened buds of wild daisies, which are quite delicate and must be carefully handpicked to ensure each one is perfectly closed. This is when they are the tastiest, and it also ensures that no little bugs have found their way in! They are then carefully prepared in small batches.
Although they look similar to capers, in my view Ox-eye daisy buds are much prettier. ♥ Their delicate, sweet and slightly spicy flavour is in fact much more subtle than that of capers. They can be added to salads, served on smoked salmon or other smoked fish, served with foie gras, pâtés, or poultry dishes, or added to sauces. They’re also delicious with salads that incorporate tomato, basil, and feta or other cheeses.
Since I had some of Mae’s smoked mackerel, I decided to have this with some of the capers for a a light lunch last week. Simply delicious, and also perfect as a light starter, served on a bed of rocket lightly dressed with seasoned balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. The thin slices of radish added a dash of colour and texture. The peppery leaves and radish were a nice compliment to the smoked mackerel which has a delicate, sweet flavour, and the daisy capers added a lovely, slightly zesty note, besides being quite pretty :-)
If you don’t live in the country, don’t feel like braving the mosquitoes to pick the flower buds, or don’t have the time to prepare Ox-eye daisy capers, they can be found in some specialty food shops, online gourmet shops, and local markets. From what I’ve seen on the web, they are starting to appear on the menus of some gourmet restaurants in Montreal, and for good reason!
My aunt Mimi loves to serve them with a pâté that she prepares with smoked cod, served on toasted squares of her home-made crusty bread [see her recipe below]. Speaking of which, her smoked fish, and particularly her smoked mackerel, is so delicately flavoured and almost sweet, and her home-baked breads are unsurpassed. I have a feeling I’m going to have to visit her soon to get some lessons on how to prepare wonderful breads, smoked fish, and all sorts of wonderful treats so that I can enjoy them more often!
225 g (8 oz) de morue fumée
125 ml (1/2 t) de beurre ramolli
125 ml (1/2 t) de crème 35%
15 ml (1 c à Table) de jus de citron
1 pincÃ©e de poivre de Cayenne
225 g (8 oz) smoked cod
125 ml (1/2 c) butter, softened
125 ml (1/2 c) whipping (35%) cream
15 ml (1 T) lemon juice
1 pinch Cayenne pepper
I encourage you to seek them out and try them for yourself for an enjoyable treat for the eyes and the palate!