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When Acacia Spells Pseudoacacia, Hayfever Misery and a Gourmet Feast
Along French roadsides and auto routes, in city centre parks and in forests across the country when the (pseudo) acacias come into bloom hayfever sufferers become teary eyed.
But while the beautiful drooping white racemes are widely believed to be responsible for the sniffles that those with allergies go through the blossoms are hugely appreciated by bees and beekeepers. The resulting pale golden acacia honey sells for a premium in France.
These trees are not native to France but come from the south eastern United States where they are known as locust trees. Their timber is of high quality and were it not for the fact that they were devastated by locust borers in the US they would have been one of the most valuable timber crops in the country.
Brought to France in the 1600s, the acacia, as it is widely known here, is not in fact an acacia at all but the Robinia pseudoacacia though the name acacia is so widely used that you may find yourself in a very long winded argument should you bring the subject up with a local. They can reach heights of 30m or more, grow very rapidly and are tolerant of high levels of pollution which along with their popularity with bee keepers accounts for their rapid spread throughout Europe. They seed very freely and also grow from suckers so be careful if contemplating using this tree in your garden.
The yellow leafed variety R. pseudoacacia Frisia has become prone to a sudden die-off which plant scientists are as yet unable to account for but the result is this variety is now being used far less by landscapers and garden designers.
You will regularly see the timber of this tree used for firewood and fence posts in France but this being France there is of course also a gourmet use for this interloper — Beignets de fleurs d’acacia — made with the flowers are delicious and easy to produce. So easy in fact that even I can make them. Deep fried in batter the flowers give off a very subtle taste and make a wonderful dessert served with sweet wine or nibbled with your mid morning café break.
Beignets de fleurs d’acacia
12 Racemes (fresh and fragrant)
60 g sugar
125 g self raising flour
5 cl of rum
I soup spoon oil
1/2 cup water
First shake out the flowers carefully to avoid eating beignet a la bugs. Some recipes recommend washing but this affects the flavour. Remove leaves and any wilted flowers. Place oil in a saucepan and heat. Make a batter by mixing all the ingredients except the flowers and the icing sugar adding water sparingly to keep the batter thick. Holding by the stem dip the racemes in the flower and then fry in hot oil, one at a time. Fry to lightly golden. Place on absorbent paper to remove excess oil then sift icing sugar over the top before serving warm.
Perfect recompense for hay fever sufferers!
Writer: Mike Alexander
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