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It’s always Spring with edible flowersVers Kwekerij Westland, in the Netherlands, has, for years, been cultivating radishes in the winter, and the Carthamus, a cut flower variety, in the summer. Now, from the beginning of the year they'll also be presenting edible flowers. Co-owner, Adriënne Scheffers, has long-since outgrown the concept of their being a novelty. “It is no longer only the starred restaurants that know what to do with them.”
This company’s history goes far back. The small-scale horticultural business in Monster has been run by the Scheffers family since 1924. With Aron and Adriënne at the helm, the business was re-named Vers Kwekerij Westland in 2010. Since then, the focus has been on the cultivation of (forgotten) fruit, vegetables and herbs. They have also cautiously started growing edible flowers. They supply these to hospitality establishments in and around Westland. From the start of the year, Adriënne has been entirely focused on growing and selling edible flowers, while her partner, Aron, runs the day-to-day activities.
Adriënne Scheffers in the greenhouse. Photo: Thierry Schut.
Separate branch of the business
“There is a clear increase in demand”, says Adriënne. It is, however, difficult to compare the current market demand to that of previous seasons. This is because the edible flowers branch of the business was only established this year. Looking back at the past six months, she describes her work as “a hobby that has gotten out of hand, and that keeps growing”.
One of her bigger customers shut down, so it, initially, looked like Adriënne would not get this project off the ground. She, nevertheless, decided to hang in there and focused, determinedly, on what needed to be done. In order to reach her goals, she designed a business plan and had a website developed. The result? The Eetbarebloemenshop.nl. website. Although this webshop operates under the Vers Kwekerij Westland banner, it does have its own, recognisable, look as a separate branch of the business. The webshop’s primary focus is on individual consumers, although she still, just as in the early days, sells a large proportion of her products directly to the hospitality industry.
Fascinating, but complicated cultivation
Adriënne finds cultivating edible flowers to be “extremely fascinating”, but admits that it requires sufficient attention. She set the bar high by setting up the cultivation based on organic standards. “A gentle hand is required as many of the flowers are extremely fragile. Because we do not spray, there is also a lot of manual labour involved.” A number of edible flowers, such as violets, are available throughout the year. The cultivation of typical ‘summer flowers’ ends around November/December.
All the flowers are cultivated in a greenhouse, partially in the ground and partially on cultivation tables. “The products are better protected against the elements when grown in a greenhouse. We can also provide additional heating if it is needed.” Borage, hyacinths and mallow, which are too big to be grown in pots and planted directly in the ground. The assortment of potted flowers, with varieties such as violets, geraniums and lavender, is broader. The supply is mostly seasonally-based.
Decorative and tasty
When it comes to the freshly cut range is the flower-mix is the clear bestseller. This is a mix of five different kinds of flowers. The mix varies from time to time, depending on the season and production. Violets and cornflowers do well in restaurants.
Borage and begonia, which taste like cucumber and apple, respectively, deserve a special mention, according to Adriënne. “These flowers are always nice to decorate with, but also contribute significantly to the taste sensation.” She adds that not all flowers have an equally distinctive taste. The delicate borage is best eaten on the same day as it was purchased. This is one of the exceptions, though. Most of the flowers have a shelf-life of almost a week after distribution.
Not only starred restaurants
Home chefs experiment with these flowers to their heart’s content. They use the different colours and shapes to transform their dishes into a work of art. Adriënne knows this because of feedback from her customers. It is was, however, the hospitality sector that took a leading role in putting this product group ‘on the map’. “Local restaurants are imitating starred establishments and are increasingly putting edible flowers on their menus. In the summer, outdoor cafes, for example, often use ice blocks with flowers in them. Bakeries also use flowers in birthday and wedding cakes.”
Vers Kwekerij Westland
Publication date: 12/21/2017
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