Petal Pusher

Karen Toocheck's dining room is an office, warehouse and workspace. There's no furniture on the patio and the backyard lawn has been replaced with raised beds, high tunnels and a small greenhouse. That's because her small Willoughby house, the same one she grew up in, has become the headquarters for the Crystallized Flower Co., a business she launched three years ago with her husband, Mark Hunsaker. "We don't really have a home anymore," says Toocheck. "Now this little piece of property just isn't enough for us."

This year they'll harvest more than 70,000 organically raised edible blooms, preserve their just-picked perfection in sugar and meringue, and ship the natural-looking beauties to places such as Lakewood's Sweet Designs (shown on the previous page) and as far away as Hong Kong.

Toocheck's closely guarded process leaves pastel-colored pansies, snapdragons and roses glistening like fresh snow in sunlight. They make spectacular decorations for cakes and confections. Crumbled petals, sold as flower confetti, look fabulous on the rim of a cocktail glass. And the crisp, candied melt-in-your-mouth blossoms taste wonderful, delivering a burst of sweetness with an indescribable hint of their flowery essence.

"There are only three other companies in the U.S. doing this, and we have the largest variety," says Toocheck.

The Crystallized Flower Co. also offers daylilies, strawberry blossoms, Sechuan Buttons and orchids from Hawaii. Its latest creation is a crystal-clear, hard-candy lollipop with a viola and mint leaf suspended inside that look like jewels on a stick.

Though Toocheck and her husband both started out as union carpenters, the longtime hobby gardener eventually began thinking about a second career. Initially, she considered selling fresh edible flowers at farmers markets, but the up-front investment was too expensive. "Candying edible flowers goes back thousands of years," she says. "I read about it and thought, We can do this."

She spent eight months getting her technique right, which involved testing various sugar and meringue recipes. Today, sales are averaging a 70 percent increase annually thanks to food-show connections, an active social media presence and website.

The Crystallized Flower Co. has garnished cupcakes served at a birthday party for Hillary Clinton and were used in a photo shoot for Southern Living. Locally, White Flower Cake Shoppe and Luna Bakery are among its fans.

This month starts Toocheck's busy season, and she won't slow down until the first frost. But Toocheck is already thinking about the annuals and perennials she'll hopefully be planting at a new place on 3 to 5 acres next spring.

"We're ready to take it to the next level," Toocheck says. "With more land, we can say yes to everyone." 440-478-5302, crystallizedflowerco.com

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