Lavender is wonderful for sachets and soap and lotions and salves and wreaths...but cooking? As much as I love lavender, it certainly wasn’t the first thing I reached for to flavor my recipes. Sure, I had made lavender lemonade and lavender shortbread, but that was the extent of my lavender culinary experimentations. So when I heard that the wonderful Nicole Callen from Norwood Lavender Farm and Chris Mulder from Barn Owl Nursery were offering a "Cooking with Lavender" class, I had to sign up.
The class took place at the Barn Owl Nursery, where, because of a pretty intense rain/wind storm the day before, the power was still out. So we all huddled together in Chris’ drying room with her pellet stove blazing and the sound of the generator in the background, and on a cloudy cool day in April, our culinary horizons were expanded.
First up, lavender tea.
Recipe: Combine lavender buds and hot water. That’s it.
We were given 5 different lavender varieties to try for this part of the class, and I was quite surprised at the differences in flavor -- from the subtly sweet Royal Velvet to the more camphorous Provence. The Melissa variety, which one participate described as “soft” tasting was the favorite of many. Imperial Gem was my favorite-- it had a very pleasantly sweet taste, not too subtle and not too strong.
We were able to make our own herbal tea blends later on by adding herbs such as chamomile, rose petals or lemon balm, to our lavender. And I know from experience that a little lavender added to Earl Grey or Black Tea is also delicious.
Another way to flavor drinks is to freeze lavender buds in ice cubes, which add a very festive, summery touch to plain ol’ ice water.
The biggest take-away from this part of the class -- choose the right lavender to cook with. The lavenders that are so great in soaps and lotions aren’t so great in the kitchen. The best culinary lavenders are generally the Lavandula angustifolias -- such as the Folgate, Royal Velvet, Imperial Gem, and Melissa that we tried.
Next on the agenda, we learned about the many different herbs that blend nicely with lavender and the importance of using just a small amount to enhance and complement the other herbs. Lavender is kindof like the Magic Johnson of herbs -- always ready with an assist, always ready to bring out the best in others. We tried some herbal butter (I seriously could have just eater a bowl of that stuff with a spoon) and herbal cream cheese spread (also delicious). We also sampled a mozzerella/tomato lavender vinegar kabob using lavender stems. The lesson from this part of the class: use the right amount. Lavender can be overpowering, so using just a pinch to start and then adding a smidge more depending on taste is the best way to go. It should be one of those flavors that your guests can’t quite put their finger on...but that gives your cooking an extra something.
The Lavender Herb blend that Nicole and Chris shared with us (and that we were able to make ourselves during the class) could be used in so many different ways. Right now I am happily imagining the roasted vegetables I am going to season using this blend.
Lavender Herb blend:
This recipe is similar to a traditional herbes de Provence blend. Try substituting different culinary lavenders, herbs and spices to create your own blend. Use this Lavender Herb Blend as a salt-free seasoning to flavor a variety of savory foods or use this blend to make a dip, marinade, rub, spread, vinaigrette, or vinegar.
2T culinary lavender buds, dried whole
1T thyme, dried and cut
1T Sweet basil leaves, dried and cut
1T Summer or winter savory, dried and cut
Grind herbs together in a non-metallic grinder when ready to use. Makes 5 T. The shelf life for this dried blend is 1 year
Finally, we explored the sweeter side of culinary lavender, sampling lavender shortbread, brownies, blondies and fudge. Lavender and lemon seem to complement each other really well, and any lavender /chocolate combo is heavenly -- but again, if done right the lavender is so subtle that it really just works to enhance or complement whatever it is paired with.
One of my favorites is still lavender lemon sandies. Below is my recipe if you want to give it a try:
Gluten-free lemon lavender sandies
Note: this can obviously be made with regular ol' flour as well...just wanted to try the gluten free version myself.
As we plan our fields for Little Lavender Farm, Dundee, I am excited to add more of the culinary lavender into our varieties. And while I am waiting for the lavender to grow, you can be sure that I will be busy in my kitchen, trying out new recipes. And I will be sure to post the best ones here.
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .