Summer Lavender Harvest
“It was a fair place even in the summer when the sun laced into it. A line of river willows and sycamores banded it in the middle, and the western hills were yellow-brown with feed.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Between Monterey and Santa Barbara lavender farming is thriving in California. Just inland from the coast in the area between Paseo Robles and Santa Ynez the Mediterranean like climate is perfect for lavender cultivation. It was time for a road trip to Paseo Robles to visit the lavender fields of Central Coast Lavender before they closed for their annual harvest and the local Lavender Festival. The farm was quiet and calm; yet the bees hovered and buzzed about as lavender was bundled in preparation for the weekly farmer’s market. It was a warm afternoon filled with all things lavender.
I had used lavender in savory recipes, keeping Herbes de Provence in my spice cupboard. But I had yet to try using lavender in a sweet dessert. Summer and the lavender harvest coalesced into a time of sweet exploration. While at Central Coast Lavender I purchased an extraordinary dried culinary lavender. The tiny delicate buds are a regal deep purple and capture the intense hot fragrance of summer in a jar.
Ice cream is a favorite summer dessert. Cream, sugar and eggs mixed into a classic custard; then churned and transformed into a glorious frozen treat. I added a dose of vanilla with the heady floral lavender and then a touch of citrus. Adding candied orange peel to the ice cream is optional. But it pairs well with the vanilla and offers a contrast in taste and texture to the lavender for a creamy, frozen treat.
Cooking with lavender is a delicate balance. Too little and the lavender floats away like a butterfly on an afternoon breeze. Too much lavender and it becomes overpowering. The scent and flavor becoming heavy, medicinal and with the taste of a pine forest. Calculating how much lavender to use is the key to success with this recipe. If your lavender is extremely fresh, a vibrant deep purple and is strongly scented; use the smaller amount, 1 tablespoon. If your lavender is older, has a mellow aroma and is a soft pale violet in color, use up to 2 tablespoons. When cooking always use culinary lavender, grown without chemicals or pesticides.
|1-2T + 1/2t||dried culinary lavender|
|3 drops||purple food coloring|
|1 drop||red food coloring|
|2T + 1t||very finely minced orange peel, optional|
- Combine the milk, cream and 1-2T of the lavender in a saucepan. Slightly flatten the vanilla beans using a spoon or knife handle so they lie flat on the cutting board. Cut the beans open and scrape the seeds into the saucepan. Add the vanilla bean pods to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, adjust the heat and simmer for thirty minutes, stir often.
- Strain the mixture to remove the lavender buds and vanilla bean pods. Scrape the saucepan clean to capture all the tiny brown vanilla seeds at the bottom of the pan. Working quickly, thoroughly wipe clean the saucepan of any residue before proceeding.
- While the milk mixture simmers mix together the egg yolks and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until creamy and lemony in color, two to three minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour a cup of the hot milk mixture into the eggs and sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined. Pour both the hot milk and the egg mixture back into the clean saucepan. Capture all the little brown specks of vanilla. Stir to combine and cook on medium low heat until the custard mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Do not boil.
- Add the food coloring, a drop at a time and mix thoroughly. Stop adding food coloring when you are satisfied with the lavender color. I used a ratio of three parts purple and one part red to achieve the pale lavender color. Using just purple with the strong color of the vanilla left the ice cream a bit dreary. Adding a tiny bit of red achieved the color of lavender buds. Less is more when it comes to food coloring. (Except when splurging on Red Velvet; then there is no turning back!)
- Pour the custard mixture into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Push the wrap down into the bowl, directly on the custard, covering the entire surface. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill. When the custard is thoroughly chilled process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers directions. During the last five minutes of processing sprinkle the very finely minced orange peel into the mixture.
- When the ice cream is finished processing, freeze until ready to serve. Let the ice cream soften for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with lavender buds and candied orange peel.
- I made Martha Stewart’s Vanilla Malt Cookies to serve with the ice cream. Brimming with creamy malt and a vanilla crunch they are a marvelous accompaniment to the vanilla and citrus laced floral ice cream. But then ice cream and cookies are an irresistible pairing!