The best part of a meal at a nice Italian restaurant, especially when you show up hungry, is that basket of warm homemade bread. Come to think of it, it can also be the worst part of your meal, since when it comes out, you Autumn upon it like a ravenous beast, and end up having to take ¾ of your entrée home with you in a box because you shoved three baskets of bread into your face. You’re usually given a plate or a small bottle of infused olive oil for adding that extra punch to your bread, and that’s what really makes it.
Infused olive oil is bursting with flavour—commonly rosemary, thyme, sage, or pepper—and when it comes to finishing your breads, soups, pasta dishes, and meats, there’s nothing better. You can purchase really tasty infused artisan olive oils for cooking, but it can be expensive, and you are limited to what you can find in stores. Luckily, creating your own oil infusions is very simple, and it will allow you to experiment with any flavour combination you can think of, and using ingredients harvested from your own garden.
Olive oil isn’t the only thing you can infuse in your own kitchen. Using similar methods, you can infuse vinegar to pair with the oil you’ve made, honey, and water. Infusing liquor is an excellent way to add a kick to your cocktails, and create totally original drinks for your celebrations.
When it comes to what you can put into your creations, you can experiment with any clean dry herbs and spices.
For your safety and the safety of those who might be tasting your infusions, stick to dried ingredients only, particularly with olive oil. Using moist ingredients, like garlic or citrus, can increase your risk of developing some pretty nasty bacteria in your infusion that can make you and your guests incredibly sick. If you have a food dehydrator, dry out moist ingredients completely before you add them to olive oil. While it is possible to add moist ingredients to olive oil, put it in the fridge, and use it up immediately, you are safest just using only dehydrated materials (we don’t want you to get sick any more than you do!). Give all of your infusing ingredients a good rinsing to remove any dirt or contaminants before dehydration. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can sun dry or oven dry your ingredients. Moisture-free is key.
You will need several air-tight glass bottles, jars, or containers to store your infusion while the magic is happening. If you are infusing water or liquor, you can use infusion jars with spigots so you can serve right from the jar when it’s ready. For honey, you can use mason canning jars, and there are loads of decorative bottles in which you can infuse oil and vinegar, especially if you are creating gifts. Just be sure that your containers have a tight seal, and that you’ve cleaned them thoroughly before use.
To create the best infusion possible, make sure that you use good quality stuff—after all, your fresh homegrown herbs, fruits, and vegetables won’t matter much if your oil, spirits, or honey aren’t very tasty to begin with.
At this point, making the infusion is simple: bruise your botanicals to better release the plant oils, add the desired amount to your infusion container, and add the liquid to be infused. Seal your container, and place it in your pantry, in a cabinet, or some other cool dry place where it can soak undisturbed. How long you will let your infusion sit depends on your taste, the ingredients you are steeping, and what you are infusing. Keep in mind that the longer you let some things sit, the more potent they’ll become. Cayenne, habanero, or jalapeño peppers from the garden are delicious when infused into oil or tequila, but if you let them sit too long, the slight spicy kick that you desire will become lava hot. If you are infusing with green or jasmine tea, leaving your infusion sitting too long will cause the tea to get that over-steeped bitter flavour. So, occasionally, test out your infusion to see how it’s coming along. When you are satisfied with the flavour, you can strain out the solids and rebottle the liquid.
How about a little lavender vanilla bean honey? Maybe an ice cold lemon and mint infused water? Give your bloody Mary a boost with a rosemary, basil, and pepper infused vodka. And, don’t forget to keep that classic Italian spice infused olive oil around for your own irresistible homemade bread. The combinations are endless!
Flower preservation, specifically flower pressing, is a practice dating back many centuries, even to ancient Egypt where, in the tombs of royalty, ritually significant pressed flowers and foliage have been found placed with the dead. Ancient Japanese civilisation called this art Oshibana, and even samurai warriors painstakingly created entire scenes using leaves and petals. The art of flower pressing gained its most popular following during the 19th century, directly on the heels of a Victorian botany craze. Being an accessible activity for both the poor and the elite, as well as women and children, Victorians took a lot of pleasure in seeking out and collecting specimens for pressing and display.
Flower pressing is back in vogue again, and just as during the reign of Queen Victoria
It’s a craft in which anyone can participate. The thing about pressing flowers is that with basically zero tools, you can create incredibly delicate and elegant works of art that you can use for décor in your own home or for thoughtful homemade gifts for your loved ones (because, in our experience, no matter how old you get, Mom will never get tired of you making her stuff for her birthday). Best Case Scenario: you put in virtually no work whatsoever, and everyone is super impressed and excited by what appears to have required one hundred years and a doctorate to create. And once you have all of these perfectly preserved flowers, you can use them for just about everything—the sky is the limit, really.
What Flowers are Good for Pressin’?
You can press all kinds of leaves and flowers, but some can be trickier than others. Special care must be taken with certain plants, like roses, since they can lose their colour very quickly, and succulents, because, well, they just won’t dry out and die. So, as you start out, stick with plants that won’t give you too much trouble in the colour retention and dehydration department. You’ll want to select flowers that will keep their colour during the drying process or will deepen or become more vibrant as a result of the process. Pansies are a very popular choice for pressing for this reason—they come many varieties, and pressing produces very deep and rich colour with all of the details, like those little black whiskers, remaining intact. Pansies are also great for pressing since the petals aren’t very thick, which means the drying will happen more quickly, and the flower is relatively flat already, so what you see is what you’re going to get in terms of shape.
You might want to consider trying to press flowers that are imbued with a special significance. Pressing is a great way to hang on to flowers from weddings, graduations, funerals, vacations, places you or a loved one used to live, and other locations and events that represent an important time, place, or person. These flowers can make a powerful gift for someone you love (save some flowers from a wedding you’ve attended, press them, create a piece of artwork with them, and present them as a gift to the couple on their first anniversary). Just make sure you test a couple flowers first to make sure they press the way you’d like.
Okay, Ready to Press, Now!
Most people are familiar with the old book press method. This is something anyone can do to press flowers, and it doesn’t require too much thought at all. In a nutshell, you find the biggest, heaviest, most boring book you own, open it up, place your flowers in between the pages, close up the book, and then stack the second, third, and fourth biggest, heaviest, most boring books you own on top of it. After a couple of weeks, you can retrieve your flowers, and they should be fully dehydrated and flattened. A few notes about this method, though. First, you should probably not use a book that you’d actually like to read, as the moisture from the flowers may cause colours to bleed all over the pages. Second, don’t use a book that has glossy pages—you want the paper to be absorbent and wick moisture away from the plant. You can purchase absorbent sheets specifically made for flower pressing to put in between the book pages, or you can just use newspaper. Third, this method takes time, and the longer something takes to dry out, the more the colour will bleed from the flower, making colour retention somewhat difficult. If you put the book in an area that gets pretty warm, you will speed up the process, and you will be able to keep some of that colour. If it’s summer, a good idea might be to stick it out on a sunny deck or porch, or you can store it in the attic.
If you’d like to get serious about pressing flowers, it’s probably better if you buy yourself a flower press. Flower presses are pretty inexpensive, with most ranging between £20-£30. They typically consist of two wooden boards with straps or bolts and wing nuts holding them together. In between the boards, there is usually a soft or absorbent material that will protect your flowers from being crushed by the boards and will wick moisture. Most people use layers of absorbent flower pressing paper and cardboard. Tightening the strap or wing nuts on the press squeezes the boards together and creates the pressure needed for pressing. Using this method allows for a little bit more air circulation to your flowers and a whole lot of pressure, so it will press them quicker than a book. It is recommended that you also keep the press in a warm location for the duration to prevent colour loss. Some heat their ovens to around 100 degrees, turn them off, and place their presses inside. If you choose to do that, be sure the oven is on a very low setting, and that you’ve turned it off before putting your press inside.
A newer flower press exists that uses heat to take your wait time down to minutes instead of days, making problems with colour loss disappear.
Microwave presses are heat safe (for a microwave), and use the intense penetrating heat of your microwave to bake the moisture out of your flowers. They work the same as a traditional press, but they are made out of materials like plastic or terracotta. Again, you sandwich your flowers in between absorbent sheets and cushioning, but once your press is closed up and tightened, you stick it in the microwave for a few minutes, and voila! Instant pressed flowers in full vibrant colour. These presses can be a little more expensive than the traditional, but not by very much. It’s a great option if you are trying to turn out large numbers of pressed flowers for gifts at Christmas.
What you can also do (if you want to be fancy about it) is build your own flower press. This is for the more experienced at pressing and certainly the more experienced at woodworking. Some professional pressers like to make their own customised presses so that they can press their flowers exactly the way they like. There are a lot of tutorials available, so if you’d like to try it out, ask an expert (when it comes to carpentry, it’s definitely not us).
What Do I Do With All These Flowers?
Uh, everything. Pressed flowers can be used to decorate lots of things. Traditionally, they are used in handmade greeting cards, bookmarks, framed artwork (remember oshibana?), jewellery, and paper-making. A lot of people use pressed flowers in decoupage, which is the art of layering small bits of paper or other materials on a surface and applying a varnish or resin to seal it and create a new finish on the object. This is done a lot with ornamental boxes and furniture.
There are a billion how-tos available online for any of these projects, so we’ll leave it to you to check them out. But, in researching this topic, we came across a few particularly creative ways to use pressed flowers:
Pressed Flower Pops – FP Brigette at Free People offers this tutorial on how to use your pressed edible flowers to make lollipops. These would make amazing gifts for Easter, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day, though, how the recipient could even dream of eating them, we don’t even know—this candy is way too gorgeous for consumption.
Flower Candles – Do you love those pressed flower column candles you sometimes see in boutiques and craft stores, but don’t want to spend a whole bunch of money for them? Check out this short Expert Village video on YouTube for an explanation of how you can make your own. It is actually very simple to create your own high end looking candle art using very plain and inexpensive candles. Of course, if you’re especially creative, you could make your very own candles for a product that is handmade from top to bottom.
Floral Manicure – This walkthrough at love Maegen explains how you can use your small pressed flowers to accent your nails.
Floral Cell Phone Case – Oh, my goodness, look at these cases! Clare McGibbon at The Etsy Blog tells you all about how she created the best iPhone cover ever using pressed flowers and epoxy resin. Oh, and glitter. Can’t forget about the glitter.
Plaster Impressions – Margot Guralnick at Gardenista discusses the work of artist Rachel Dein, who specialises in making delicate and beautiful plaster castings of heirlooms and family treasures, and amazing flower arrangements. This isn’t really pressed flower art, but it is a very cool way to preserve and display your flowers nonetheless. If you’d like to see more art from Dein, visit her website, Tactile Studio.
See what else you can come up with, and be sure to share your ideas and projects with us!