Please welcome Marcia, who with this post joins The Perfect Pantry as guest blogger. She lives up the road from me, in a lovely old house with several vegetable and flower gardens, surrounded by acres of woodland. Professionally, she's been a teacher, children's librarian, naturalist and goat farmer. An avid cook and baker, Marcia will share stories and recipes once a month or so.
Guest post and photos by Marcia in Rhode Island
Lavender is a frivolous yet ever-present staple in my pantry. Occasionally my garden yields a few tablespoons, just enough for lavender madeleines when I’m feeling peckish and reminiscent, but most of the time, I buy buds and flowers embalmed in plastic packets.
“Pick your own lavender and distill the color of our garden into your kitchen,” promised the ad that ran in our local paper a couple of weeks ago.
And I’d been waiting. Because I am sure you don’t pick lavender on just any day.
If you’ve read Beyond the Paw-Paw Trees, then you know that something unusual always happens when the sky is lavender blue. This morning the early light shifted from gold to lavender-ish. At last! I gathered up basket and scissors, and drove through the rolling farmlands of eastern Connecticut.
Kristin Orr, elfin owner of Quintessential Gardens, zipped down the farm lane in a golf cart, yelling, “This way!” I trotted to keep up, following her along a tree-shaded path to the remains of an 1889 house. Only the cellar survives, its granite walls now enclosing a lavender maze.
The old foundation stones retain the sun’s heat and shelter the plants from New England’s bitter winds. According to Kris, lavender’s Iraqi and Mediterranean heritage prefers not only warmth, but also deep drainage. She built up five feet of stones and gravel before adding soil. The blinding white oyster mulch (five tons!) provides needed calcium.
Kris grows Provence, Munstead, England, Dilly Dilly and Hidcote lavender, which is the variety I have in my own garden. I mentioned that some cooks prefer Hidcote while others call for Provence in their recipes. She snorted, "What grows in your area is what works." Regardless of the variety of lavender you use, make sure it is culinary lavender, meaning it is not sprayed with poisons of any kind.
Following instructions to cut the blossom stem down to the first set of leaves, I began to snip. Scores of bumblebees hummed nearby, and the cloudless lavender sky turned deep blue. As the day warmed, the lavender fragrance intensified. Snip, snip. I lost all sense of time.
Eventually I emerged from my purple daze, and realized my basket was full. I creaked to my feet and reluctantly headed for home.
On the way, I bought half a peck of peaches at a farm stand. Back in my own garden, I picked herbs and vegetables. And after consulting by phone with my sister and daughter, I prepared a dinner that featured my lavender in both the main course (recipe below) and dessert (lavender cookies). I let the rest of my lavender air-dry, and stored it in a glass jar.
Pork tenderloin with grilled lavender peaches
In this recipe, the lavender retains its distinctive flavor in each part of the dish: a faintly rosemary-like taste in the pork marinade, deeply floral in the syrup for the peaches. Serves 4-6.
1/4 cup total of minced herbs (proportions to your taste, or to what you have): dried or fresh lavender flowers or buds, tarragon, lemon basil, oregano, rosemary, lemon thyme, Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 peach, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pork tenderloin (1-1/2 to 2 lbs)
Mince herbs and garlic, add a bit of salt and pepper, and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, mash the peach, and add enough olive oil to make a paste. Add herbs. Put all in plastic bag with the pork, and marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. Grill on indirect medium heat for 30-40 minutes.
For the peaches:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp fresh lavender buds and/or flowers
1 small strip lemon peel
4 peaches, cut in half, pits removed
In a small saucepan over medium heat, boil water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in lavender and lemon peel. Let the syrup steep for 20 minutes, then strain into glass container. Refrigerate if not using right away, and warm before using.
Place peaches cut side down on the grill, for 1-2 minutes over direct medium heat. To serve, pour lavender syrup over peaches.
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