Mention of lavender often brings to mind shimmering Provencal fields, or perhaps a quaint purple bush in an English backyard, but one might not immediately associate this hardy herb with a Nova Scotia family farm. But it does grow here, and is rather well suited to finicky Maritime weather. I visited with the co-owner of Seafoam lavender, Dave Belt, as he was manning his stall at the Seaport Market, and grilled him on the finer points of the cold hardy plant most often associated with grandmotherly sachets and skincare products.
Lavender is used more commonly in cooking than you think, and is far more versatile in the kitchen than you might expect. “That’s one of the things that’s unique about this herb,” Dave told me in between visits from Saturday shoppers, “It’s savory and sweet. It’s a member of the mint family, so it’s a cousin to rosemary. Any recipe you have that calls for rosemary, you can substitute lavender one for one.” Dave and his wife Suzy got in to the lavender business when they decided to buy 6000 lavender plants from family friends, who were leaving the country to do missionary work in the Phillipines. That operation was known as Beach Lane Lavender, while the current set-up goes under the name Seafoam. Dave has only been through one season with his operation, but the inaugural harvest was a very good one.
There are over 100 varieties of lavender, and it is found over the world. There are at least 5 or 6 varieties that grow well in the Maritimes. Dave and Suzy raise 4 cold hardy varieties of lavender – the majority of their crop is made up of English Czech lavender, which is both hardy and full of oil, making it very productive. Lavender requires only three main things, according to Dave: Bright, full sun, sandy soil (at least 50% sand), and something to cover it with in the wintertime. Lavender buds are harvested early in the season and used for sachets, teas and culinary products. The buds open in July and from then until October Dave and his family harvest the lavender flowers. The new location is not yet certified organic, but Seafoam does not use fertilizers or pesticides on its plants, and the gargantuan task of weeding 6000 lavender plants is done by hand!
I’d often wandered past the old Beach Lane stall at the Brewery Market and stopped to sniff the various lotions and soaps that the previous owners made from their harvest. A few months ago I purchased some culinary lavender buds from the new Seafoam stall. They sat mostly unused on my pantry shelf, aside from the occasional time I would wander into the kitchen, open up the bag, inhale deeply and imagine I was standing in a field in Provence in full summer, and not in my frigid basement apartment. A few weeks ago a baking itch led me to rummage through my cupboards, and I decided that it was time to experiment with lavender.
I’m certainly glad that I did. These cookies were….heavenly. Picture everything that is amazing about chocolate chip cookies, and then some. The recipe made so many I had to give them away to keep myself from sneaking in to the kitchen at 3 am for a snack. Now I am trying to figure out ways to include more lavender in my cooking. I threw a few puts in a pot of vegetable stock last week in place of rosemary, as Dave suggested. Most recipes I found on the web used lavender in the kind of sweet treats you would make for afternoon tea (further cementing lavender’s reputation as the type of prim and proper herb your grandmother would put in her potpourri), but the lavender cookbook Dave showed me during our chat used lavender in any manner of recipe: lavender-balsamic glazed chicken breasts! Lavender margaritas! People, the possibilities are endless!
To get you started, I’ve included a recipe for those aforementioned ultra-heavenly cookies, and for lavender syrup. The syrup is super simple to make and is amazing drizzled over fruit or ice cream – just make sure you don’t catch yourself spooning it out of the jar at 3 am.
Lavender Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(recipe originally found here – I skipped the brown sugar and used coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate in place of chocolate chips, with an increased level of chocolatey awesomeness as the result).
2 1/4 C Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
1 C (2 sticks) Butter
1 and 1/4 C Granulated sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
2 large eggs
2 C coarsely chopped bitter-or-semisweet baking chocolate
2 tsp ground lavender
Preheat the oven to 375 Degrees
Mix flour, baking soda, lavender, salt and chocolate chips in a bowl and set aside.
Mix butter, sugars, vanilla & eggs and beat them by hand, or using an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Add to the dry ingredients and combined with a large spoon.
Drop spoons of batter onto greased cookie sheets (make them any size you like, the baking time will increase just a little if you make them large). Bake for about 12 minutes.
Lavender Syrup (originally part of this recipe)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lavender buds
Bring 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, honey, and lavender to boil in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until lavender flavor is pronounced, about 3 minutes. Strain syrup into small bowl. Refrigerate if not using immediately (syrup will keep for approximately 4 days, covered in the fridge).
You can find out more about Seafoam Lavender at www.lavendercanada.com