I seem to have a particular fondness for the red poppy, its fragile fluttering silhouette and its thread-thin stem, too thin, it seems, to support its flamboyant scarlet petals and contrasting black heart.
I like that it is easily spotted from afar — in the middle of a field, on the banks of a country road or in the most unsuspected places amidst city landscapes — and I like that it is a flower best left unplucked. As tempting as it is to tuck one behind your ear, it will wither away so fast you will feel sorry you did.
Thankfully, there is an alternative way to enjoy red poppies, and it is red poppy syrup.
Flower syrups — lavender, geranium, rose, cornflower, mimosa, violet, dandelion — seem to be a current hype on the French gourmet food market, surfing the wave of the old-fashioned and the quirky, in the aftermath of the whole “cooking with flowers” craze. And these syrups, if used with care and a very light-handed touch, can bring an interesting depth of flavor (and color!) to cocktails, desserts and even savory dishes.
My bottle of sirop de coquelicot I acquired from Izraël, a small store in the Marais that sells a miscellany of spices and cool food products from all over the world.
The syrup is produced in Nemours, a city to the South-East of Paris, where they’ve had a specialty of bonbons au coquelicot (red poppy candy) since the 1870’s. Ten years ago, a
chocolate maker from that city decided to widen the range of poppy-based products and added a vinegar, a jelly, a liqueur and a syrup.
While the scent of red poppy syrup straight from the bottle is vaguely reminiscent of cough syrup (red poppy is an age-old soothing remedy, for sore throats in particular), it takes on a delightful acidulated sweetness when diluted, and its flavor could be likened to a subtle mix of strawberry, cherry and pomegrenate.
This particular dessert I made just a few nights ago to bring to my sister’s apartment, as I was joining her and her boyfriend for a fun and highly relaxing session of Top Model 2005 watching (the French rendition of America’s Next Top Model), complete with take-out sushi and catty comments.
The compote, served with ladyfingers to soak up the creamy juices, was deemed “délicieuse!” by my kind hosts. The hint of red poppy, lending the cream a lovely pink shade, also does an excellent job at bringing out (without overwhelming them) the sweet and tart flavors of the softened peaches and apricots.
I have been reinvited for the next episode on Tuesday.
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- 6 ripe peaches, stoned and sliced
- 6 ripe apricots, stoned and sliced
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons red poppy syrup (sirop de coquelicot; see substitution note)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F).
- Place the fruit in a single layer in a baking dish.
- In a small bowl, mix together the cream and the syrup.
- Pour over the fruit, and insert the dish into the oven to bake for 15 minutes, until the fruit is cooked through.
- Allow to cool, and serve with slices of sponge cake or ladyfingers.
If you are unable to find red poppy syrup, you can experiment with other flower or berry syrups, or simply substitute maple syrup.
This post was first published in August 2005 and updated in July 2016.