By Mary Ann Ebner
With a hint of its natural aroma, lavender brings a fragrant goodness to foods and drinks. The dreamy ingredient in many varieties shows off a purplish flower with greenish-gray foliage and, in even the smallest quantities, stretches a long way in the kitchen. The versatile plant adds a unique flavor to everything from hot herbal teas to salad vinaigrettes and waffles.
Though baked goods flavored with lavender have long accompanied my morning cup of coffee, I hadn’t seriously considered the herb’s refreshing qualities as a cold-beverage enhancer. But basic lemonade makes the case. While I was away in Colorado this summer, I sampled a splashy lunchtime variation with friends. The serving of lemonade dressed up with lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, quenched a table full of tired hikers with its soothing properties. The herb’s distinction gave the drink a little edge without overwhelming the lemony base.
Discovering a source close to home means there’s more lavender to be shared in the warm weeks ahead. Ellen Duffy-Taylor, owner of North Winds Lavender Farm in Pawling, New York, carries the scent of lavender with her from farm to market. During the outdoor market season, she offers her lavender products — craft and culinary — every other weekend at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market (her upcoming market participation dates include Aug. 8 and Aug. 22). Local consumers are turning to her culinary lavender not only for cooking and baking but to mix up flowery cocktails from martinis to cosmos.
“People are actually using my lavender to make lavender lemonade, and a lot of bartenders are using the syrup for cocktails,” Duffy-Taylor said. “Culinary lavender is very popular. We have one whole culinary field producing lavender that is edible, and it’s naturally grown. We’re not certified organic, but we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.”
In addition to a selection of craft lavender and aromatherapy products, North Winds Lavender Farm sells its lavender syrup, lavender shortbread cookies, culinary lavender buds and jellies at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. The rich jellies pair well with cheese and transform toast into a breakfast feast while the syrup complements pan-seared meats, fish and steamed vegetables. The culinary buds include a mix of English and French lavender.
“We sell (culinary lavender) by the cup, half cup or quarter cup,” Duffy-Taylor said. “Selling by the pound at the market is just crazy. For people who are cooking, a cup is usually adequate.”
My favorite lavender lemon cookie recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of crushed buds, and the measurement adds plenty of presence — introducing a subtle fragrance before the first bite. The lemon and lavender work together, and the end result is a rich but-not-too-sweet confection. High-grade culinary lavender is traditionally strong, and too much in any recipe, whether in sauces or baked goods, may overpower food with an overly perfumed accent.
Using the fragrant flowers sparingly saves a cook from having to start over and will, in the end, reduce costs. Considering that little is needed in any creation, the harvested lavender flowers are affordable. One cup is priced by North Winds Lavender Farm at $12 and is sold in several increments. For any savory or sweet dish, use lavender moderately to experiment with the herb.
Duffy-Taylor has been farming for 18 years and 2015 marks her 10th year in the lavender business. She’s been making the same lavender shortbread cookie recipe with all natural ingredients for years, and the fragrant baked goods will soon be available beyond the farmers market.
“I’m opening a store in September,” she said, “on Charles Colman Boulevard (in Pawling), right on the main drag. It will include everything we sell at the farmers market.”
To make something softly scented — out of your ordinary repertoire — pick up a little lavender. The lavender lemon cookie recipe shared here produces a delicate floral flavor. If you haven’t used lavender, incorporate a pinch in a familiar recipe. If you like the result, move on to a slightly more generous amount to adjust the taste for your preference. For further adventure, try lavender syrup (North Winds offers syrup in 8-ounce bottles for $7) mixed up with your favorite gin, or infuse vinegar with lavender stalks and flower heads.
Lavender Lemon Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies
1 tablespoon lavender buds
1 stick softened butter, unsalted
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup course or decorative sugar
Grind lavender buds with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream together butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Mix in egg. Add ground lavender and mix until smooth.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Fold into butter mixture. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
Drop dough by the spoonful onto ungreased baking sheet. Flatten dough balls lightly with the bottom of a small glass. Sprinkle with course or decorative sugar.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees until cookie edges are slightly golden.
Photos by M.A. Ebner