Doubletake: Sweetheart St. Johns

As we prepare for the launch of Issue #2, we wanted to take a moment and do a ‘doubletake’ with some of the makers we featured in our premiere issue. Portland, Oregon is unique in so many ways; in particular, the proximity of the city to the natural landscape -- the sea, the forest, the mountains -- is a source of inspiration and even materials for many artists. One of our favorite makers from Issue #1, Anna Henrick of Sweetheart St. Johns, is a baker who has developed a relationship with natural goods, using only ingredients derived from nature to color, flavor, and decorate her cakes. We’re not talking ‘natural’ in the grocery store sense, but in a very real, straight-from-her-backyard sense. Anna decorates her cakes and colors her icings with botanical ingredients she collects and sources locally from her own organic garden, a local organic farmer, and a forager.

You can read all about Anna’s philosophy of edible florals on her website, and get a closer look at her personal history with this art form by reading Issue #1 (her feature begins on page 11.) For this doubletake, I called Anna to chat with her about how those of us who are interested in using edible florals in our own culinary pursuits might begin.

First, Anna stressed that everything you use in your edible floral creations should come from a source you can verify as truly organic. By organic, Anna means without any pesticide application - you can’t exactly scrub down roses the way you can a potato, after all. Anna recommends growing your own backyard varieties for personal use.

Some starter florals would include: peonies, all varieties of roses (be careful not to use spray if you live in an area with Japanese beetles), calendula, lavender, and honeysuckle. Many wildflowers are also edible, such as chamomile, elderflowers and their berries, rose of sharon, feverfew, everlasting peas, and fennel. If you don’t have a green thumb, consider letting clover overgrow a patch of your yard - clover is a great place to start! Many, if not most, flowering fruit trees are edible as well, although removing the flower destroys the potential for fruit to develop in its place.

Another way you can incorporate natural elements into your baking and cooking is to create your own natural flavorings. Vanilla, orange, lemon, elderflower, and lavender extracts are not difficult and allow you to take another synthetic element out of your kitchen. Here’s a tutorial from the Wellness Mama blog that breaks down how to make these extracts at home. You can also make simple syrups at the same time for use in glazes and cocktails. Natural florals not only impart flavor, but also color, to finished cakes. You can use beets, matcha (green tea), or spinach puree to color icings.

For Anna, creating a beautiful cake goes beyond her wedding or event client’s requests. She’s creating time-based art that is ephemeral, functional, and delicious.

All photos in this blog are courtesy of Anna Henricks of Sweetheart St. Johns. Be sure to follow her on her website and on Instagram!

Andrea Hungerford