A few years ago I planted some hops with the idea that I would get back into making beer. That hasn’t happened but I felt I should do something with this year’s harvest of flowers. Hops, or humulus lupulus, are mostly used for flavouring and as a stabilising agent in beer, and I wasn’t too sure if there was anything else they could be used apart from their shoots which in the spring make a delicious vegetable. It turns out that the bitter flavour of the green cone-like flowers are often used as a herb. Each variety has a slightly different flavour, but to get an idea of how it will taste, just take a ripe flower and rub it between your hands and take a whiff.
The ripe flowers are dry and very light, and to store them I simply let them dry out on the counter. Alternatively, they can be frozen. Begin by using very sparingly as the flavour is strong and bitter, and will probably only appeal to those who appreciate the flavour of beer. I chopped a few to sprinkle on a vegetable quinoa salad, a tomato sauce on pasta, and allowed myself to be more generous in cooked dishes like stir fry and stew. In each case the hoppiness lent a distinctive flavour, not too different from adding beer to a recipe. I also used some of the flowers to make a tea which turned out surprisingly red. To that I added sugar and let it ferment with some kombucha – the closest I will get this year to making my own beer.
The next test was to use it in baking, and hence these cheesy hop biscuits. I made two versions as I prefer anything with sourdough but made another version for those who don’t normally have excesses of starter on hand.
Hops and Cheese Biscuits
Ingredients for Sourdough Biscuit
1 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 hop flowers, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp grated cheddar cheese
3/4 cups sourdough starter
Ingredients without sourdough
The same as above, except add 5 Tbsp flour and instead of sourdough use 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 Tbsp lemon juice.
Combine the dry ingredients and cut in the butter using a knife or pastry cutter. Add the other ingredients, combine thoroughly and knead it a few times. Roll out and cut into whatever shape you prefer. If you like you can brush them with some beaten egg and sprinkle extra grated cheese on top. Bake at 375 F. for 20 minutes, or until they are golden in colour.
This recipe makes 6 biscuits, but the it could be doubled. I started gingerly at first with only 2 hop flowers, but found it required 4 to give enough flavour to be noticed, but not overly bitter either. And there’s no reason not to add other beer friendly flavours such as olives or nuts.
At any rate, I am pleased to add another local dried herb to my pantry, and one at that which is not commonly found in conventional recipes. If you don’t have space to grow your own hops, some of the farmers’ markets might carry them at this time of year. Otherwise they can be bought in some specialty shops.