Lavender: Sweet Blooming Lavender

by The Gilded Fork

a test kitchen dossier

He [singer Prince] reeks of lavender. It turned me on, actually.
– Madonna

Foodstuff: Lavender

Etymology: From the Latin lavare, meaning “to wash.” It may also come from the Latin lividus, which means “bluish” or “livid.”

Area of Origin: Thought to be the Mediterranean region

Description
Lavender is a widely cultivated herb that is characterized by clusters of small purplish flowers and green or gray leaves. It has a sweet, floral flavor with citrusy notes. A relative of mint and similar to rosemary, sage and thyme, lavender can range in color from vivid indigo to more subtle whites and pinks.

History
Throughout history, lavender has been used as both a medicinal plant and a culinary herb, and its use dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans. The Egyptians used lavender for cosmetics and embalming; the Romans used it for washing (including their elaborate public baths) and for deterring insects. The Romans were also among the first to recognize the healing and antiseptic properties of lavender, and are credited with introducing the herb to Europe. During Roman times, lavender blossoms were so prized that they sold for 100 denarii per pound, which was about one month’s wages for a farm laborer.

In Medieval times, people hung crosses made of lavender over their doors to ward off evil and disease. In fact, lavender may have been correctly depicted as a method of disease prevention because the plague was transmitted by fleas, which the herb is known to repel. Queen Elizabeth I truly believed in lavender’s medicinal powers: It is said that she drank up to ten cups of lavender tea every day in order to chase away headaches.

Lavender has frequently been associated with love throughout the ages. During the Tudor period, if a young woman wanted to figure out the identity of her true love, she would sip on a lavender tea on St. Luke’s day and murmur, “St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me…In my dreams, let my true love see me.” Even in modern times, many couples still believe in the herb’s romantic powers: It is believed that if newlyweds put lavender under their mattress, their marriage will be full of passion.

Today, lavender is grown in many countries all over the world, ranging from Canada and the United States to New Zealand, Australia and Europe. It is mainly used in cosmetics, perfume and potpourris, but there is a substantial collection of recipes that call for lavender.

Types of Lavender
There are many kinds of lavender, but the only ones suitable for culinary use are the English and Provence varieties, of which the English has the sweetest fragrance. The other non-culinary types produce flowers that have a strong, almost eucalyptus or camphor scent and taste.

Cooking with Lavender
The potency of lavender flowers increases with drying, so if using dried flowers, use about 1/3 the quantity of dried flowers that you would use when cooking with fresh ones. Lavender has a strong flavor, so keep in mind that a little will most likely go a long way. The flowers and leaves can be used fresh, and both the buds and the stems can be used dried.

Medicinally, lavender can be brewed into a tea, and used to relieve all sorts of maladies, ranging from sinus congestion to exhaustion and tension to hangovers. In terms of cooking, lavender can be used dried and fresh in all sorts of delicacies, ranging from baked goods to poultry and meat dishes. Lavender can even enter the kitchen by more indirect means: The French send baby lambs to graze in lavender fields, following the belief that these grazing patterns will make the lamb meat tender and fragrant.

Best Matches
We are enamored with the pairings of lavender with lemon and honey, both of which are featured prominently in our recipes. There is something ethereal about the interplay of tart lemon and fragrant lavender, and honey is a natural match.

Our Approach
Given our love for this glorious herb, we have decided to use it in as many ways as possible for this month’s Indulgence. Our team has gone crazy in the kitchen with desserts, but we have also used it in a savory dish as a key ingredient for marinade.

Recipes

Lavender Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze
Lavender Biscotti with Almonds
Lavender Meringues
Orange & Lavender Conserve
Honey Lavender Caramels
Milk & Honey Lavender Sorbet
Lavender & Honey Roasted Chicken
Pear and Lavender Crème Brûlée
Blueberry Lavender Syrup
Sweet Cheese Popovers with Lavender and Chocolate (see recipe variations)
Lavender, Walnut & Honey Slipper Breads
Roasted Fennel with Lavender & Honey Marinade

Dossier by Ava Tramer

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