Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Edible Centerpieces

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
jaschult@illinois.edu

Spring is in the air! Besides all the gardening that starts happening this time of year, it's also the time that Easter, Mother's Day, baby showers, graduations, wedding showers and weddings fill our calendars with celebrations.

Creating unique table decorations for these celebrations can be a challenge at any time, but may be particularly challenging this year considering the troubled economy. Budgets are tight, but we still want celebrations for our family and friends to have special touches.

Flowers are traditional as far as centerpieces go, but a trip to the produce section of your favorite grocery store is an opportunity to create a unique centerpiece that will not break the bank.

There are several ways to approach the "edible centerpiece" idea. Consider using some fruits and vegetables for their color and texture much like you would a cut flower. For example greens like kale and Swiss chard work just as well as more traditional choices such as ferns in accenting an arrangement.

Group fruits and vegetables of similar shape or color can be attractive centerpieces by themselves, or accented with a few strategically placed flowers. But if you have the time, there is a whole other world to explore.

Carving fruits and vegetables to use in centerpieces is a great option for those of us that find ourselves with more time than money these days. Some carvings take practice to master, but some are as simple as using your favorite cookie cutter to cut pieces of fruit or vegetable into fun shapes and then arranging them on wooden skewers in a vase or bowl. There are businesses that sell these types of edible arrangements at a premium price. With a little time and a lot less money, you can create your own versions.

If using cookie cutters seems too simple, you may want to experiment with the Asian art of carving vegetables, which dates back to about the year 600 in China. Even the simplest of vegetables, such as a carrot, can be transformed into a delicate flower with a sharp knife and some practice.

There are literally thousands of ideas for carved fruits and vegetables available in books and online. From the simplest basket carved out of a watermelon, to elaborate figures and scenes involving dozens of kinds of fruits and vegetables, there are projects fit for any skill level.

When carving fruits and vegetables, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Fruits and vegetables are easier to carve at room temperature.
  • Use fresh fruits and vegetables that are blemish-free and not too ripe for best results.
  • Cut a small, thin piece from the bottom before carving round fruits or vegetables to stabilize them and keep them from rolling.
  • Fruits prone to browning such as apples will stay fresh longer if dipped in lemon-lime soda.
  • Carved fruits and vegetables should be placed in ice cold water to firm up the designs and spread the petals of carved flowers.
  • Do not leave carved fruits and vegetables in water, as they will spoil more quickly.
  • Store each type of carved fruit or vegetable separately in the refrigerator so that if one type spoils, it won't ruin all of your work.

If you would like to learn more about edible centerpieces including vegetable and fruit carving, University of Illinois Extension is offering a hands-on workshop at our annual Gardening Insights Day on Saturday, March 27, 2010. The day lasts from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost of the day is $20 and includes a wide variety of educational classes and hands-on workshops. For more details and to register, go to: www.extension.illinois.edu/macon or call (217) 877-6042.

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