For those of you who pigeonhole Jack Monroe as just a consumer Joan of Arc, championing society’s downtrodden and deprived I have two words: magnolia petals.
This week she Tweeted about ‘A Few of my Favourite Things’ and nature’s free bounty featured. Of course, it did.
She wrote: “Did you know that magnolia petals are edible? They’re like chicory; a crunchy and pleasantly bitter morsel with a peppery aftertaste similar to rocket/arugula. Beautiful and delicious in salads, or as a snack with a sliver of apple or pear and soft blue or other strong cheese.”
Immediately came my Damascene ‘you wait ages for a bus to come along… and then’ moment. Lunching at Another Hand up on Deansgate Mews, Manchester – there on the counter of the open kitchen sat a large tray of freshly foraged stuff including magnolia flowers.
There was also wild garlic, three cornered leek (milder, sweet, more onion flavoured) and sweetly scented black currant blossom. Chef/co-owner Julian Pizer had sourced them all around his home patch of Birchwood, Warrington.
So how does it work in the kitchen for much-travelled Kiwi chef Julian? “The magnolia has been pickled down, infused into syrups and dried to use in several applications through the summer like our magnolia set cream dessert with rhubarb and bbq grapes.”
Julian and his team collected 4kg of magnolia and are going back for a second forage. Foraging suggests wild but magnolia is mostly domesticated in the UK. You’ll find it in private gardens, parks and semi-wild. Its global history is mind-blowing, though. The Magnoliaceae family is recorded to be at least 20 million years old with plants in the same family being up to 95 million years old.
Here’s a pickled magnolia petals recipe (it’s not Julian’s) which, alas, turns the pickles brown, losing the vivid pink colour, but creates a flavour similar to pickled ginger, so it’s a fine sushi accompaniment. It comes rom the website Eatweeds.
75 g magnolia petals; 100g rice vinegar, 35 g granulated sugar, pinch of salt.
Pick petals that are ready to drop from the tree. Pack into a jar. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir to help the sugar dissolve and heat till steaming and the first tiny bubbles appear. Pour over the petals and let it cool before covering. Leave to steep for a week before using.
Add on a great soundtrack while you’re pickling: Jason Molina’s Hold On, Magnolia.
For our lunch (available until 3pm) at Another Hand we shared smoked fish, rosti with creme fraiche and a soft egg, plus avocado and tomato on rye and a generous grilled sandwich of smoked beef, fennel, celeriac and kraut. Much of th daytime menu centres around the outstanding naturally leavened organic bread from Holy Grain two doors away. Baker Danny Foggo teamed up with Julian and fellow chef Max Yorke (the duo worked at Cottonopolis and Edinburgh Castle) to host Three Hands deli on the bakery site as the precursor to their more ambitious joint project, Another Hand.
That daytime brunchy offering is very deli-led, but Julian’s food ratchets up to a different level with his evening small plates menu. Check out my upcoming Manchester Confidential review. Whether magnolia petals will feature let’s wait and see.
Another Hand, Unit F 253 Deansgate, Mews Level, Manchester, M3 4EN.