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WalkerSpeak: Culinary Uses for Lavender Bring Sweet Rewards


Lavender is sold for hobby, as well as culinary uses.

The first time I tasted lavender used as a culinary ingredient was at a wine luncheon at Becker Vineyards.  The meal included a touch of this fragrant herb in nearly every dish served, from the salad dressing to dessert.

When I returned home, I pulled down a book to read more about using lavender in cooking. My natural choice was “Southern Herb Growing” (Shearer Publishing, $29.95), by Madalene Hill and her daughter, Gwen Barklay, and Jean Hardy. This beautifully photographed compendium of herbal lore is a treasure for cooks as well as gardeners.

In the book, published in 1987, there was a only a brief discussion on using lavender in cooking. They did offer the instruction to use only the young growth tips of the plant for cooking.

Some 23 years after this book was published, attitudes toward lavender have changed. Many cooks, especially those who grow herbs, use the fragrant plant as an ingredient in many thing, from salad dressing and vegetables to roast chicken and ice cream.

I took a tour of several farms in an area area south of San Antonio recently with a group from the food organization, Les Dames d’Escoffier. The topic of herbs came up and someone asked Nichole Bendele, who works at Becker Vineyards, whether one could use “any” lavender found for sale, including that from a hobby store, for cooking. Becker Vineyards has its annual Lavender Festival this weekend.

“Not a good idea” was her response. The handling of the herb for culinary purposes is more strictly regulated than lavender that will be used for potpourri, dried bouquets or sachets.

Here are a few more tips on using lavender in cooking, from Bendele:

  • Purchase culinary lavender.  It’ll be pesticide-free, and it will not have stems and leaves attached.  It will be just the florets.
  • When cooking with lavender, use sparingly —a little goes a long way.
  • Lighter blossoms have a lighter flavor, darker (as in more gray) blossoms more flavor.
  • Lavender is also related to rosemary and sage.
  • Lavender sprigs can be used as skewers for shrimp and veggies on the grill.
  • Want to add a little flavor to simple rolls?  Sprinkle a few lavender florets in the dough before baking.
  • And, for a medicinal use:  Lavender oil is good to use as an antiseptic (small cuts, light abrasions).

For a recipe, try Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream

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Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream


We first sampled lavender in ice cream from a pint we purchased years ago from a Dallas ice cream company called Out of a Flower.   Here is a recipe (not from Out of  Flower) to try.

Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream, divided use
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
5 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

In a medium saucepan, mix 1 cup of the cream with the milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Warm the cream mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and tiny bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in the lavender. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for 1 hour. Taste and let sit longer if you want a stronger flavor.

Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with several inches of ice water. Set a smaller metal bowl (one that holds at least 1 1/2 quarts) in the ice water. Pour the remaining cup of cream into the inner bowl (this helps the custard cool quicker when you pour it in later). Set a fine strainer on top. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl.

Rewarm the cream mixture over medium-high heat until tiny bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes. In a steady stream, pour half of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling.

Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof rubber spatula until the custard thickens slightly (it should be thick enough to coat the spatula and hold a line drawn through it with a finger), 4 to 8 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 175 degrees to 180 degrees at this point. Don’t let the sauce overheat or boil, or it will curdle. Immediately strain the custard into the cold cream in the ice bath. Press firmly on the lavender in the strainer with the spatula to extract as much flavor as possible.

Cool the custard to below 70 degrees by stirring it over the ice bath. Stir the vanilla extract into the cooled custard.

Refrigerate the custard until completely chilled, at least 4 hours. Then freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the just-churned ice cream to an air-tight container, and freeze for at least 4 hours or up to 2 weeks.

From David Lebovitz

Makes 1 quart.

Photo by Bonnie Walker

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