Lavender's Lovely

Posted: Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Little Goes a Long Way

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Photo By Sue Ade
Photo By Sue Ade
Flavored with lemon and lavender syrups and garnished with candied lemon peel and fresh lavender sprigs, a very Victorian-looking Lemon-Lavender Sherbet delivers the taste of a by-gone era. Similar to sorbet, which is made with sweetened fruit and water, sherbet contains milk and sometimes egg whites and/or gelatin.

A little lavender goes a long way. The first time I used culinary lavender in a recipe, I was a little overenthusiastic and my lavender shortbread tasted and smelled, well, "floral." Taste testers called the cookies "weird," with an aftertaste that reminded them of "soap." I agreed, quickly grasping that lavender is best enjoyed as a background flavor. Like many other herbs used to season food, it is wise to remember that less is often more and understatement the key to balancing flavor. If you've not yet experienced the joys of cooking and baking with lavender, comparing it to rosemary, in terms of intensity and flavoring power, may help you appreciate how potent lavender can be if not used with restraint. Although fresh lavender grows well in my garden, the amount of buds I could harvest and dry in a season is so miniscule, that I prefer to purchase dried, culinary-grade lavender from reputable on-line suppliers, especially those who are members of the Sequim Lavender Farm Association (SLGA,) located in Sequim, Washington, the lavender capital of North America. For purchasing and recipe information check out the association's website at: www.lavendergrowers.org/SLGA_Welcome.html. You'll find an abundance of information there, including breathtaking images of lavender fields that seem to go on forever.

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Lemon-Lavender Sherbet

1 cup fresh lemon juice

Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon

1 1/2 cups simple syrup with lemon (see recipe for Candied Lemon Peel below)

3/4 cup simple syrup with lavender (recipe follows)

3/4 cup whole milk

2 large pasteurized egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks

Candied lemon peel, garnish (optional)

Fresh lavender sprigs, garnish (optional)

Combine lemon juice, zest, syrups, and milk in a pitcher. (Do not worry if mixture curdles.) Chill until very cold. Pour mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. After sherbet is made, fold in egg whites. Spoon mixture into a freezer-proof container and freeze for 2 to 4 hours, or until desired consistency is reached.

Sherbet can be made up to 48 hours in advance of serving. Sherbet will not turn icy and will remain easy to scoop even after it is frozen. Garnish with candied lemon peel and fresh lavender sprigs, if desired. Makes about 1 quart.

Simple Syrup with Lavender

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons dried culinary lavender buds

In a medium saucepan, bring water and lavender to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and add sugar, stirring constantly until sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover, and allow lavender to steep in syrup for about 30 minutes.

(If you like a stronger flavor, steep for 15 minutes more.) Strain through a paper coffee filter into a clean glass jar with a lid, discarding lavender buds. When syrup is cool, cover, and refrigerate.

Makes about 2 1/4 cups syrup.

Candied Lemon Peels

2 large lemons, washed and dried

Granulated sugar

2 cups water, plus more for cooking lemon peels

2 cups granulated sugar, plus more for coating lemon peels

Remove the lemon peel in vertical 1/4-inch strips, avoiding as much of the white pith (the bitter membrane just the beneath the skin), as possible. Combine peels with enough water to cover. Bring water to a boil, then boil peels for 1 minute; drain and rinse peels under cold water. Repeat process. In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups water with 2 cups sugar. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture is clear, about 3 minutes. Add lemon peels and simmer until the peels are translucent, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow peels to cool in syrup. Remove peels from the syrup with a slotted spoon, reserving syrup. Place peels on a paper-towel lined wire rack, allowing excess syrup to drip off. Toss peels in granulated sugar, one at a time, shaking off excess sugar. Place peels on a sheet of wax paper and allow to dry. (While peels are drying, drain syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a clean jar with a lid. When syrup is completely cool, cover and refrigerate. (You will use the syrup for making Lemon-Lavender Sherbet.)

When sugar-coated peels are dry, store in an airtight container; the peels will keep for several weeks.

Makes about 35 peels.

How to Harvest and Dry Fresh Lavender

When the lavender buds are just beginning to open and show their purple color, cut the stems just above the leaves, leaving a good long stem for drying.

Place a few stems together and bundle them with a thick rubber band.

Hang lavender bundles, upside down, in a warm (not humid) place, away from sunlight. It will take about 10 days for lavender to dry. (Be sure to place a tray or towel under bundles to catch any buds that fall from the lavender.)

When the lavender is dry, remove the buds from the stems (Reserve the stems for use in sachets and potpourris, or burn them in a wood-burning fireplace for their aroma.) Place the buds on a paper towel and roll the towel into the shape of a cylinder.

Gently roll the towel back and forth to dislodge the buds from the stems, being careful not to crush the buds.

Store buds in a tightly sealed jar, away from light, in a cool, dry place.



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