"Dessert is — of course — rose-petal ice cream," Denise Schreiber announced. She was speaking to a room of 176 people, who had joined her at the Buffalo Inn at South Park one recent weekday evening, for a meal that incorporated edible flowers into every dish.
Such an undertaking makes it easy to conjure images of white-lined tables, dainty china, well-coiffed ladies and natty gentlemen. But there was nothing fancy about this dinner: Schreiber also announced that guests would get "dime bags," or grab bags, to take at the end of the meal.
Schreiber, the greenhouse manager for Allegheny County Parks, where she has worked for 22 years, eschews the "fancy" stereotype edible flowers and good food can evoke. Hoping to make such components more accessible, she has hosted the edible-flowers dinner annually for 13 years.
"I'm a cook," she says, adding that it's easy to "add something [to a dish] and make it good." That said, she is quick to explain that she, too, can be picky: "I'm not big on vegetables. I don't eat green." Except for avocado — "I eat a lot of avocado."
Her passion for incorporating flowers — roses, lavender, nasturtiums, lemon verbena — into her meals began on a 1999 trip she took to England to tour its famous gardens. At one of the stops, she tasted rose-petal ice cream for the first time.
"I put a spoonful into my mouth and discovered heaven on Earth," she wrote in her book, Eat Your Roses, a collection of descriptions of edible flowers and related recipes, which she published in 2011.
This year's meal, served buffet style, included about a dozen dishes she concocted, including: beef with rose chutney, chicken with lavender honey, a spring-greens salad with lavender-blueberry vinegar dressing, and orange-rosemary pasta.
And — of course — the rose-petal ice cream.
As the meal came to a close, Schreiber took to the microphone again:
"We're going to bring out dessert now, so don't be running out the door," she commanded.