With its spike of purple flowers and sweet floral scent, lavender arrives every summer along with the honeybees. Poking my nose into a bouquet of lavender, I know how a giddy bee must feel.
Some people think lavender belongs in soap and perfume, not food and drink. Indeed, when I bury my head in sheets and pillowcases washed with lavender detergent, I feel alive and balanced.
But lavender has its place in the culinary world, where it can impart a gentle tingle to the senses, a memory of flowers and romance.
Lavender marries well with the fruit of summer (strawberries, peaches, blueberries, blackberries and cherries). It has a natural affinity with lemon, honey, almonds, milk and cheese. (Incidentally, good quality culinary lavender can be found at Sevananda Natural Foods Market in Little Five Points or DeKalb Farmers Market in Decatur.)
But as baker Sarah O’Brien, owner of Atlanta’s Little Tart Bakeshops says, a little goes a long way. Use lavender sparingly, and you will be kissed with a gentle, calming, vaguely savory sensation.
That’s how I feel when I nibble O’Brien’s Lavender-Lemon Sablés.
A buttery shortbread cookie baked to a golden crisp, the sablés are just the thing to put on a saucer beside a cup of coffee or tea — when you want just a little something sweet. The combination of lemon zest and lavender makes an inherently rich confection taste light and delicate. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the bitterness of caffeine.
Speaking of which, O’Brien tells me her staff has been adding lavender to espresso drinks. Lavender latte, anyone?
She herself likes to mix lavender simple syrup and spritz it up with soda water for a refreshing summertime drink. I think such a syrup would be a delicious way to sweeten lemonade, limeade or cocktails fashioned from gin, vodka or bubbles.
To make lavender simple syrup: Dissolve 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 cup boiling water. Stir in 2 tablespoons of dried lavender buds. Cover and steep for an hour or longer, and strain. Then muddle some peaches, add a splash of the fragrant syrup, and top with champagne or prosecco. You can thank me later.
Cole Younger Just, beverage director at Bellina Alimentari in Ponce City Market, has a genius touch for incorporating lavender into libations.
This spring, he served a heavenly cocktail called Latte e Miele (Milk and Honey), made from milk-washed gin, raw honey, lemon and lavender.
Recently, he’s been serving a lavender-scented variation of the classic Prohibition-era cocktail the Bee’s Knees, a simple blend of gin, honey and lemon. He sprinkles it with Lavender Powder he creates from bee pollen, lavender buds, sugar and salt, and perfumes it with a puff or two of Lavender-Honey Spritz, a syrup of lavender, honey, water and champagne vinegar.
He puckishly calls the drink the Bee’s Sneeze.
His gin of choice is Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Gin. “The gin is made from honey,” he says, “and the only botanical that is used in the gin is juniper. The rest of the botanical flavors are coming from what the bees are munching on.”
When I get into my kitchen to make a Bee’s Sneeze, the Lavender Powder makes me think of the fairy dust in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
I pour the Bee’s Sneeze into a pretty champagne coupe etched with a floral design, from a set I inherited from my mother. I mist it with Just’s Lavender-Honey Spritz, sprinkle it with his Lavender Powder, and sniff.
That’s what I’ve been buzzing about! This is how a bee must feel, drunk on lavender pollen, more of dope than soap.
Here are three recipes that use dried lavender as an ingredient: A lavender-lemon shortbread cookie; a delicious cocktail of gin, honey, lemon and lavender; and Lavender Almonds, a wonderful nibble to serve with cocktails or on a cheese plate.