The hills around my home are decorated right now with soft pinks,whites, lavenders, and reddish purple.
The pinks are wild peach trees, and often their shade deepens to crimson in the center of the blossoms.
Whites are wild cherry, sarvisberry, wild plum, wild apples and dogwood. The whites range from the green-tinted parchment of dogwood to the pinkish white of the apple blossoms, the warm white of the cherry flowers, the bluish-white of the sarvisberry and the mistiness of wild plum.
Lavender, magenta and all shades between are donated by the redbuds, whose colors pale as the flowers age--and there is even variation in the depth of color from one tree to another.
Add in the huge palette of greens in the springtime woods and blue skies, and the landscape is a Monet dream.
But the redbuds had my attention this weekend. When I was a girl, growing up in oldtown Manassas, I had a redbud tree and a small flower garden beneath it. The tree was my favorite place to hang out, next to the attic. I could climb up in it and stretch out on a horizontal branch and read, undisturbed by my mother who was probably looking for me to set the table or hang out wash. After the blossoms dropped the tree was covered with heart-shaped leaves that shaded the bluebells growing below.
I never once thought about eating those red buds. I mean, would you have tried them? Flowers were for being pretty and smelling good, but that was all I knew back then. Except honeysuckle--I know how to "suckle" the honey out of those!
When I moved to West Virginia I learned that other flowers can be eaten--like daylilies, violets, elderberry blossoms and calendula. It was only recently that I learned that the redbud also offered culinary uses.
So on Sunday morning my granddaughter Hannah and I walked up on the ridge to harvest some redbuds. The picking was easy because the branches were low to the ground and plentiful. We just grabbed a small twig and ran our hands up it, pulling off the flowers as we went. Our basket was filled in no time. Of course we forgot the camera, so I don't have any pictures of this part of the process. But when we returned to the house, we did remember to take photos to post.
Hannah with the leftover blossoms, destined for a salad.
I had read that the flowers are a tasty treat with a nutty flavor and could be used to make jelly, to garnish a salad or stir into muffin mix or into wild game dishes. Hannah and I both tried them, and I will disagree about the nutty flavor. Hannah agrees with me that the flowers were sweet, with a flavor similar to honeysuckle. They were a bit crunchy too, and very nice to munch on. Surprisingly good.
When we came back to the house we stuffed our harvest into quart jars, packed them down and covered them with boiling water. The recipe I have said to let the infusion set for at least 12 hours. Since we didn't have ours in the jars until noon, that meant midnight. That meant too late to make jelly. So I put them in the fridge and there they remain until I get home tomorrow evening. The color of the infusion is lovely, a deep violet-red.
Tomorrow evening I will strain off the liquid, add pectin and maybe lemon juice, and cook to a boil. Then add sugar, cook to a boil again, boil for a minute, and jar up. I can't wait to see how the jelly comes out, and I will be sure to have pictures of the process to post.
Redbuds are also known as "Judas tree" because supposedly Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus, hanged himself from its branches. According to the legend, the tree used to grow to a good size, but after Judas' suicide the tree became stunted and did not live very long. Originally its flowers were white, according to one story, but turned red in shame.
In this story from the Jataka tales, four young men see the same tree, but each sees it differently. And in Arkansas, when the redbud was made the state tree in 1937, many people protested because the tree was viewed as unlucky or even bewitched. According to author Vance Randolph, some even considered it unlucky to be near a redbud after dark.
Such a pretty little tree, with such a sorrowful folk history. I am glad I never knew its bad reputation when I was young and dreamed in the branches of my tree. Perhaps that tree influenced me and planted the seed of folklore interest in me way back then? I doubt it, really. I am just glad to be surrounded by this beauty each spring--and now I can add redbud to our spring menu too.