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Hill Country Lavender snapshot
Photo: Hill Country Lavender Farm

Lavender Flower Power

by Lori Grossman

The beautiful Hill Country north of San Antonio is famous for its breathtaking stands of wildflowers – especially Texas' state flower, the bluebonnet. But now, there's also lavender "in them thar hills." And it's not just for sachets – you can eat it. too.

For those of you reading this in the UK, you must be wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, you've known about lavender for hundreds of years. Norfolk Lavender, in Heacham, Norfolk, has been commercially cultivating the flowering herb for over 70 years. Queen Elizabeth I supposedly drank lavender tea to relieve her migraines. Queen Victoria was so fond of lavender water and perfume that she had her own special supplier who was granted the title "Purveyor of Lavender Essence to Her Majesty the Queen."

Texas Lavender
Our own lavender love affair began in 1999. National Geographic photographer Robb Kendrick was struck by the similarity of a lavender-growing area in southern France to his own land near Blanco, Texas. He and his wife started the state's first commercial lavender farm, which opened to the public in 2001. Visitors to the farm, called Hill Country Lavender, can cut their own lavender during the season, which runs from mid-May until July.

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So many lavender farms have sprouted in the area between Blanco, Fredericksburg, Johnson City, and Austin, that Blanco hosts a Lavender Festival every June that attracts thousands of lavender lovers.

Lavender Tips
If you have asthma or allergies, don't eat the flowers. If you're not sure whether a flower is safe to eat, make sure. Don't guess. To try some, start with a smalll amount (some people's systems are more sensitive than others). Eat only flowers that have been organically grown, to avoid ingesting pesticide residue. If you dry fresh lavender, the flowers can be stored in an airtight container or frozen for later use.

Here are some recipes that use lavender blossoms.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Lavender adds to the lemony flavor of this cookie.
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lavender blossoms, stripped from the stem
  • Additional lavender blossoms, for garnish
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour in increments, and blend until you get a smooth, firm dough. Mix in lemon rind and lavender blossoms.

Line a flat surface with parchment paper. Divide the dough into two equal parts, and roll out into two 10x7-inch rectangles about 1/4-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate dough at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When dough is cool, cut it into 1 x 3-inch rectangles. With a spatula, transfer them carefully onto a nonstick baking sheet, leaving an inch in between (dough will expand as it cooks). Discard parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Bake cookies for 18 to 20 minutes or until they turn light brown around the edges. Watch carefully so edges don't burn. If you want smaller cookies, they can be cut at this point, while dough is still warm.

Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely. To serve, sprinkle with additional lavender blossoms. To store, keep in an airtight container. Makes 2 dozen (more if cut into smaller cookies).

Lavender Ice Cream
I'll bet your neighborhood ice cream store doesn't have this flavor!

  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1-1/2 cups cream
  • 1-inch section of vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lavender blossoms, finely chopped
In a saucepan, heat milk and cream until scalded. Add vanilla bean. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In the top of a double boiler, whisk egg yolks and sugar. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until the mixture begins to thicken and coats a wooden spoon. Add lavender blossoms. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature for at least one hour. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour.

Strain liquid and pour into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Flower Garden Cake
Mix several different edible flower blossoms and petals (like lavender, rose petals, and violets) for this special cake.

  • 2 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 8-ounce container sour cream
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mixed fresh edible flower blossoms and petals
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on low speed, cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and sour cream, the beat in the dry ingredients, 1/2 cup at a time. Beat well after each addition. Beat in the lemon juice and zest. Add the vanilla extract and blend well.

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean (about 50 minutes to one hour). Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Release and remove the sides of the pan. With a spatula or knife, separate the bottom of the cake from the bottom of the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack.

Turn cake over again, so that it is right side up, onto a serving plate or cake stand lined with a paper doily. Toss the edible flowers and petals with the 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle over the top of the cake. Makes 8 servings.

To get more information about Texas lavender, try www.blancolavenderfestival.com or www.hillcountrylavender.com.

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