Saffron, a flower full of flavour
Discovering the scarlet gem of Vaucluse
In the 14th century, the Popes of Avignon reintroduced the cultivation of the crocus sativus, a small purple flower that produces saffron. In the 17th century, there were over 160 saffron growers in Carpentras. After disappearing in the 19th century, the culture was reborn in Vaucluse a few years ago, thanks to a handful of enthusiasts based around Ventoux. Rare and precious, the flavour and fragrance of this spice make it a chef’s best friend. What’s more, saffron is so precious that it is also traded, like truffles and caviar! So let us take this opportunity to remind ourselves of the value saffron can add to our dishes, and to discover some recipes featuring this small flower 🙂
A careful harvesting process
A the end of September, the small flowers bloom and a period of intense work begins
It’s very early. The Provençal sun, which has only just risen, shines down on the saffron. In a flash, I watch a sea of mauve petals blossom at an incredible speed. There was nothing here yesterday, now there are thousands of flowers.
With his trusty helpers, the saffron grower must work quickly to pick the little flowers before the sun wilts the precious stigmas found among the petals.
Crouching down, he places each flower in the palm of my hand and and cuts the stalks using his nail. Delicately, he places them in his basket.
Did you know?
One hour of picking involves four hours of pruning! It’s easy to understand why saffron sells like gold.
Patience and delicacy
In October, the Carpentras tourist office runs saffron tours, during which you can learn about the history of saffron in Provence, cultivation, and the process of harvesting and pruning. The tour is followed by a chance to taste local products made with saffron!
Our baskets are full and the next task begins
This task is a true test of patience. With immense caution, the three-pronged red threads are plucked from the flower. I make sure not to split or break them, which I’m told is very imortant. My nails turn black but, little by little, I get the hang of it.
Around the table, the atmosphere is joyful. On one side is a huge pile of orphaned purple petals, on the other, a small plate of crimson threads. It’s hard work! To think that, once dried, 200 threads will only amount to one gram of saffron! It will take 10 days of intense work for our small team to obtain 500g of the precious spice.
Saffron, a beauty enhancer in Vaucluse
Recognised medicinal and cosmetic virtues
Saffron possesses recognised medicinal and cosmetic properties, including being an anti-oxidant. In Avignon, the 4E laboratory has developed an organic beauty range based on the saffron flower, Kesari. In serums, creams or moisturizers, saffron is a friend to our skin.
Recipe idea: pie with scallops, leeks, and saffron
The pie is enhanced by the beautiful orange-yellow hue of the saffron and it’s refined perfume.
Preheat the oven to 180°C, thermostat 6, and cook the shortcrust pastry for about 5 minutes. Warm the milk in a saucepan, then turn off the heat, add the saffron pistils, and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Chop the leeks and sauté them in a frying pan over a low heat for 10 minutes without browning them. If necessary, add a little water. Cut the shallots and add them to the a pan with a little butter and oil. Add the drained scallops, cook for 2 minutes and set aside. Season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with the crème fraîche. Add the cooled saffron milk and season lightly.
Add the leaks and scallops to the pre-cooked pastry base, then pour in the egg/ cream mixture.
Cook for 20-25 mintues
1 packet of shortcrust pastry
400 g of scallops or bay scallops
1 large pinch of saffron pistils
1 tablespoon of crème fraîche
25 cl of whole milk
Some butter and olive oil
2 shallots, salt and pepper