The Main Menu: Lavender – not just a colour

Lavender is a colour, a plant and a fragrance. However, as a cook, it is an enticing ingredient. Its unique fragrance transfers to a delicate but specific flavour in desserts, ices, teas and herb rubs. In fact in the south of France, where lavender grows in abundance, it is an important part of herbes de provence, a herb mixture consisting of lavender basil, fennel seed, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. Herbes de provence is wonderful on grilled meats, marinades – as well as in egg dishes – and can be purchased at Bulk Barn. It has become a regular addition to menus at our table.

Although lavender flourishes in Mediterranean areas, it also loves hot, sunny, gravelly Ontario soil. You often see it as a border plant in flower gardens or beside pathways. Make the most of it and harvest it as an herbal crop for recipes. One of the best edible gifts I have received was from my friend Emily Grant who gave me a luscious jar of lavender salt produced from her own homegrown lavender. It is divine. Although she uses this salt on lamb chops, I have used it on salads, grilled chicken and fish. This is my rendition of lavender salt for you to use with summer grills and dressings.

Edible Lavender
Harvest lavender when it is in full bloom. Use only lavender that is free of pesticides. Tie a bunch of the lavender up with string and hang it upside down to dry in an airy room. Once the lavender dries, several days depending on the humidity in the air, simply rub the flower head between your fingers to release the individual lavender seeds. These lavender seeds are now ready to use in recipes. Store lavender for recipes in clean glass jars away from bright light.

Lavender Salt
A sprinkle of this ethereal salt is tantalizing on fish, salads and lamb.
2 tbsp (25mL) sea salt
1 tbsp (15 mL) harvested lavender
Mix the ingredients together evenly and spoon into a jar preferably with a shaker lid. Store at room temperature away from bright light.

Lavender Syrup
When you visit the south of France, you can find all sorts of lavender products for the kitchen: jams, jellies, teas and bottled syrup. Of course, these products are not so readily available here but you can make your own. Lavender syrup can be drizzled over pancakes, pound cakes or ice-cream. Let your imagination go wild.
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 mL) water
1/4 cup (50 mL) lavender seeds
In a saucepan bring sugar, water and lavender seeds to the boil; reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Cool to room temperature and strain through a sieve into clean jar. Cover and refrigerate for up to one month.

Lavender Shortbread
Shortbread is always popular but with a sprinkling of lavender, it is heavenly. Serve these with fresh fruit or ice-creams.
2 cups (500 mL) all purpose flour
1 cup (50 mL) softened butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1-2 tbsp (15 mL) lavender seeds
Preheat oven to 325°F (220°C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper set aside. In a mixing bowl using electric mixer or wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Gradually beat in flour bit by bit then beat in lavender seeds.
Roll dough out between two pieces of parchment paper about one-quarter inch (6 mm ) thick and cut out with pretty cookie cutter. Arrange on baking sheet leaving about one inch between cookies, and bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on cooling rack.
Store cookies in cookie tins for up to one week or freeze in freezer proof containers for up to two months providing you do not devour them immediately!

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