Fried pumpkin flowers – let’s remember Houston spring

I found this in my files from 20 April 2006, and thought maybe now, after this very cold spell, would be a good time to remember the big yellow flowers of pumpkins and zucchini. We can’t eat them yet, but we can anticipate. Some people worry about cooking flowers, thinking they’ll hurt the later crop of squash. But the male flowers come out before the females, so if there’s no females, then the males aren’t doing any good, at least not here. And anyway, I usually lose the vines to those squash moths before I get any real squash. I know I can kill the moth larvae by stabbing into the stem with a pin near where I see the caterpillar frass (crap) coming out, but who has time?

It’s probably a pumpkin plant growing out of our compost heap, across the yard, into the salvia patch and skirting the vegetable garden. I had to hunt under the large, prickly, white-stained leaves for the yellow blooms. The velvet flowers on long hollow stems are open wide in the morning, closed by evening. I pick them in the morning when I can, choosing these male flowers and leaving the thick female flowers with their stumpy pistils for the swelling fruit., The flowers keep a day or two wrapped in a towel in the high humidity drawer of the refrigerator.

This recipe is modified from a Florentine cookbook and gives a delicious, crunchy flower.

I know it is hard, but the batter works best if it sits for half an hour or so before use.

12 – 20 male squash (pumpkin, zucchini etc.) flowers

½ cup flour

1 egg

4 tablespoons olive oil (this is important – makes the crust crunchy)

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

water or water and white wine sufficient to make a fairly liquid batter (maybe half a cup)

In a frying pan (I use cast iron) put some olive oil, maybe a third of a cup, and let it heat not to smoking.

Put the flour in a bowl, and next to it put the egg, and the oil. Add a little of the water and stir vigorously. Add more water until the batter is liquid enough to coat the flowers, like a thin pancake batter. Experiment to get the consistency how you like it.

Dip the flowers into the batter and fry them until light brown. Turn and fry on the other side. This takes only a few minutes per batch. Place on a dishrag on a plate to absorb the excess oil. Salt lightly and eat immediately.  

This may seem like a greasy food, and it is, but flowers are in the garden such a short time, and this is the best way to enjoy them. The Florentine recipe called for mace, not nutmeg. They wanted you to separate the egg, and first add the yolk, then let the batter rest for half an hour before adding the beaten-to-peaks white. This may make it crunchier but is a lot more work and time, and my way tasted fine and crisp. The oil in the batter is important for the crunch. Without it, the dough is too gummy. Be careful not to have the oil too hot or too cold. A dollop of batter dropped in should sizzle immediately, but not turn black in 10 seconds.IMG_1975.JPG

Here are the flowers with their batter.


Frying in hot oil.




If you want to taste the plain flowers, you can also fry them in a nearly dry pan without batter, not as good.


Simply served with black olives, and some pasta with fresh-from-the-garden pesto.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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