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Lavender—Good Enough to Eat
August 3, 2005

            My mother sprinkled a tiny amount of Yardley’s English Lavender talcum onto the sheets as she ironed them.  (Yes, my mother ironed the sheets—even the children’s.)  Maybe that’s why I love it so.  The fragrance is so clean, so fresh.  I can approximate Mother’s sheets by tossing dried lavender blossoms tied up in a handkerchief in the dryer.  (No, I don’t iron my sheets.  I don’t hang them out to dry either.  I wish I did.)         

I love the sight of lavender in full bloom covering a rocky hillside in Provence and the familiar, clean tang as the breeze sweeps across it.  And the neat bushes lining the borders of an English herb garden, I love that too.

I love it so much I’ve tried to grow it here in a climate that is anything but right.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too humid.  But I’ve tried.  It has not been a total failure.  I’ve been able to keep it going in a pot.  I had really good luck with a cutting from the lavender that Gloria Coppinger had going at the Firehouse for a while.  It bushed right up and bloomed away—for a couple of years, and then—good-bye.

This spring we visited the wine country of California.  Only it will never be the wine country again.  It’s lavender country for me.  The hills, the fields were all in full flowers.  I fell in love all over again.   Next spring.  I’m planting it again.

I want it to work this time.  So once home, I called Master Gardener Lisa Reeves.  She knows herbs, and she knows how to grow them.  Lisa confirmed that she does, indeed, grow lavender right here in Decatur County.  She gave some tips.  She grows it in “bright shade.”  This she tells me is shade that is not too dense, something like the shade under a tall pine tree.  Lavender likes light but not our hot summer sunlight.  She suggests using French lavender rather than English.  Lavandular dentata does well for her.  (That means ‘lavender with a tooth-like edge.’)

“Check the label,” she told me.  She added that she mulches it heavily but does use any special fertilizer or chemicals.  If some dies back because of heat and humidity, she  prunes off the dead branches.  It usually comes back with cooler weather.

I asked Lisa if she cooks with lavender. She does. I have known about culinary lavender, and used it occasionally.  But on the California trip we dropped by a farmers market in Napa.  There was lavender aplenty:  soap, perfume, bath salts, creams, lotions—and a cookbook.  Now I’m off again cooking with lavender.  

If you are able to grow your own lavender, and you don’t use pesticides, it’s probably fine to use lavender from the garden for cooking.  But your best and safest bet is to purchase culinary lavender.  In Tallahassee you can get it at New Leaf Market (on Appalachee Parkway), Cluster and Hops (on North Monroe) and at Joie de Vivre (on Market Street).

Possibly the best lavender recipe is also about the easiest, and perfect on hot summer afternoons.

Lavender lemonade

1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers

1 cup boiling water

            Steep the lavender in the water until it is cool.  Strain.  Use as part of the water in your favorite lemonade recipe.  I use the easy approach and use a no-sugar mix, but it’s as good with frozen concentrate (nice when it’s pink) or, maybe better, from scratch. And even better if you put a couple of stalks of fresh mint in the boiling water along with the lavender.

            My new cookbook is full of recipes for lavender and salmon—seems they are a natural go-together.  But I adapted one of my favorite salmon recipes that calls for maple syrup by using lavender-flavored honey.  It’s outstanding!

Lavender honey-roast salmon

            Stir two teaspoons (or more, to taste) of ground or finely chopped lavender into 1/2-cup honey.  Let sit for several hours.

            Place salmon fillets into a plastic bag with the lavender honey.  Add a small amount of hot water if the honey seems too thick.   Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator overnight.

            Preheat the oven to the highest baking temperature (around 450 degrees).  Remove the salmon from the bag and pat gently, but don’t remove all of the marinade.  Place in a shallow pan and bake for 8 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet.  Serve with lavender-lemon sauce.

Lavender-lemon sauce

            Combine 1/2-cup mayonnaise (low-fat is okay) with 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon ground or finely chopped lavender. 

            Lisa reminded me that lavender is the “secret ingredient” in the delicious herbes de Provence blend.  I had forgotten that.  I usually buy my blend, but it’s easy to put together at home and almost as good if you leave the lavender out.

Herbes de Provence

3 tablespoons dried lavender flowers (light chopped)

3 tablespoons dried marjoram or oregano leaves

1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves

1 teaspoon dried basil leaves

1 teaspoon dried sage leaves

            Mix all the ingredients together then place in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in a dark cool place.  The mix will last indefinitely, but is best used within a year.  Because I love rosemary, I add extra.

            I asked Lisa to share her lavender cooking secrets.  This is her favorite lavender recipe.

Lisa’s Lavender Shortbread

1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) butter, at room temperature (no

substitutes)

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons very finely chopped lavender flowers (fresh or dried)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 1/3 cups flour

1/ 2cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cover bottoms of two baking sheets with parchment or brown paper.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, lavender and mint with an electric mixer.  Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add flour, cornstarch and salt and beat until incorporated.  Divide dough in half.  Flatten into squares and wrap in plastic.  Chill until firm.

On a floured board, roll or pat out each square to a thickness of 1/2 inch.  Cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares or rounds.  Transfer to baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart.  Prick each cookie several times with a fork.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes until pale golden (do not brown).  Cool slightly, then transfer to a rack.  You can sprinkle them with a lavender powered sugar if you would like.  Makes about 4 dozen.

To make lavender sugar, mix 2 tablespoons of fresh lavender flowers, if you are lucky enough to have them, or 1 tablespoon of dried flowers with 1 cup superfine sugar. Place in a tightly covered glass jar and leave for one or two weeks.  Sift the sugar to remove the flowers and return to the jar.

What to know more about lavender?  Go online and visit www.lavenderguild.org  (they wrote the cookbook) and www.napavalleysoapcompany.com  for many lavender products. 

            I’d love to know about your experiences cooking with and growing lavender.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network