Long grazing platters, a luxuriously bountiful counter to the restriction of diet culture, are one of the hottest food trends of recent years. In this post, I’ll tell you about my take on this food trend, and how, from a small 10×10 foot mixed garden plot (of flowers, vegetables, and herbs) I create both edible bouquets and stunning modern food platters that feature 100% edible flowers and homegrown vegetables, greens, and blossoms.
Every (Food) Story has a Beginning
When I was a kid, my mother always served a vegetable platter at every party. There, on the table between a birthday cake and the birthday-girl or boy’s favorite dish, always sat an oddly fancy cut glass serving tray with rigid dividers decisively separating the coarse carrot sticks, stringy celery, and canned black olives, somewhere in the vicinity of a bowel of diluted ranch dip. Although I’ve come a long way from serving this appetizer of my own parties, I love that I can take this American classic and reimagine it in a way that celebrates homegrown, organic, and heirloom vegetables.
Essential Elements of a Garden-Homegrown Grazing Platter
Be sure that you have enough. Well, more than enough. To achieve a visually appealing and enticing garden food platter you’ll need to bulk up. If your own garden harvest is a little light, mix it up with store-bought veggies, or edible but traditionally-not-eaten parts of vegetable plants for extra bulk and WOW.
Start with a good foundation
Start with a oversized board or base If you don’t have a good-looking board handy, don’t worry, just pick up some marble printed contact paper and use it to cover an ordinary piece of cardboard, styrofoam, or plywood. This is my go-to, since it makes clean up a breeze!
Create a Mix of Heights
Building a good modern food platter with your homegrown garden vegetables is all about composition. Balanced but not too balanced. Interesting but not crazy. When I start building my edible floral and vegetable homegrown garden food platters, I start by placing my tallest elements first. Typically, these are edible blossoms placed in a shallow jar (mostly for appearances but entirely edible if someone wants to try them!)
Think beyond typical vegetable presentation
What makes these edible floral and vegetable homegrown garden food platters really turning head-turning is that the presentation is unlike what can be purchased at stores. Many times, we serve our homegrown garden vegetables just like they would be marketed in a store, because the look is what we’re used to and think is “good.” But for more visual interests, and an authentic, homegrown yet still classy look you’ll want to prepare your vegetables differently. For example, leave a bit of the top on carrots and slice them lengthwise, keeping a bit of the green tops on each side.
Pick Vegetables at Multiple Sizes
Another way to make your homegrown vegetables stand out from boring store-bought crudite trays is by picking vegetables at an assortment of sizes. Although grocery stores have accustomed us to having a “correct” size for each type of vegetable, most/many can be eaten at a wide variety of sizes and ripeness levels. This is perfect, actually, for making an edible food platter because most of us don’t grow a garden that’s ready on-demand to produce a vegetable platter for an entire party or gathering of friends! When I am invited to create one of my homegrown edible floral and vegetable party platters, I am at the mercy of my garden and what’s ready to harvest. A day or two before I am due to deliver a modern vegetable platter, I take a bucket to my garden and chop almost everything.
(elements to include in a edible flower or homegrown vegetable platter)
- flowering herbs and vegetables (just snip off the blossom and do a quick google to confirm if the blossom is edible, most are)
- Calendula (a.k.a. pot marigold)
- Bachelor’s button
- Bee Balm
- Clover (yes! It’s edible from flower to root)
- Squash Blossoms
greens to serve on a food platter
- Kale / Kale Chips
- Pea Shoots & Tendrils
- Baby Romain sliced down the middle to reveal the spiral interior
- Beet Greens
- fresh herbs served chopped and goat cheese rolled
vegetables to include on platter
- everything that can safely be eaten raw from your garden (including, you may not know, beets, summer squash, and zucchini!)
- youg carrots make particularly stunning carrot sticks, just pull up the plant, scrub, and slice down the middle to retain some of the tiny green tops
- rainbow carrots
- baby squash (can be served raw, sliced down the middle or even served with blossom attached)
How to Prep.
Prepping the vegetables is the most time-intensive portion of preparing this appetizer. But a mandolin makes the job much faster. Slicing vegetables also create creates a look of abundance because you can slice the same vegetable in different ways. For example, when serving cucumber you can serve tiny baby cucumbers, along with slices of larger cucumbers, ribbons of medium-size cucumbers, and even spears of cucumbers sprinkled with dill salt for a quick faux-pickle.
Add some spreads.
In a throwback to my own families party table, inevitably I always include ranch dressing on my vegetable platters, though these days it generally includes real buttermilk and fresh herbs- even if I’m just dressing up a store-bought version.
Hummus is always a favorite on the garden grazing platters, and can easily be made from a can of chickpeas
My favorite dip to include on a homegrown garden vegetable and floral edibles platter is a simple mix of half cream cheese and half goat cheese stirred until smooth and then rolled and whatever herbs are plentiful in the garden.
I love the artistry of food grazing boards. One thing that makes this “canvas” easier than traditional art is that you can rearrange endlessly until things look nice. As long as your hands are scrubbed, you can position and reposition elements until they look just right.
Pay attention to color and create variations in color, texture, and height.
- Typically I start by placing the dips in locations on the board that are roughly equally spaced apart.
- Next, I began arranging and piling foods that I know will be most popular near those steps.
- Next, I had more diverse vegetables. If I have a lot of one particular vegetable, I might slice it in different ways or, even if sliced the same, position it in three different places on the board, to make it look like even more plentiful options are available.
- Finally, I fill open space with the remaining vegetables. If there are open gaps, I fill those areas with pinches of herbs or flower blossoms. Although the herbs and edible flower boxes are entirely edible, most people will not sample flowers, even if told they’re perfectly fine to eat! So the flowers are mostly for garnish.
Using Edible Flowers in a Spread
One great way to really integrate the edible flowers in spreads such as this is to include a flower petal infused butter. This is one of my favorite ways to serve flowers. To prepare simply allow half a pound of butter to soften on the countertop for several hours. When soft, spread evenly on a sheet of paper until about 1/4 inch deep. Next, pluck the flower petals from individual flowers and sprinkle on top of the butter.
I like using nasturtium for red petals, Calendula for orange and yellow petals, and Bachelor’s Button for the addition of dramatic blue petals. Add some chopped sage, chives, or parsley for a bit of a savory herb flavor to offset the floral flavor of the flower petals. Once you’ve added all your ingredients evenly across the top of the butter, fold over the wax paper so the petals are sandwiched in the butter, peel the paperback, then fold the butter in on itself another time. Chill slightly, and then knead slightly with a wooden spoon, shaping as desired into a log or ball that can be served on your platter near some fresh bread or toast rounds.
To finish your platter you’ll probably want to add some fruit (preferably from your own garden or even grown wild, such as blackberries here in the Pacific Northwest) and some crackers or sliced bread.
This quick summary is an introduction to how I make the dramatic and always impressive modern “food piles” or platters of abundance that celebrate the organic, homegrown vegetables and edible flowers that grow in my garden.