Texas’ abundant agriculture gets celebrated with festivals for many of the state’s tastiest products, from watermelons in Luling to strawberries in Pasadena.
One relative newcomer to the festival tradition is lavender, which has only been grown commercially in Texas for less than 15 years.
Blanco, the lavender capital of Texas, rolls out the purple carpet June 7-9 to educate visitors on the many uses of lavender, which include cooking with the delicately scented flowers.
“Lavender works in almost any recipe that calls for mint or rosemary,” Blanco chef and culinary instructor Sibby Barrett said.
Barrett, who teaches cooking classes at the nearby Onion Creek Kitchens at Juniper Hills Farms, will be one of the speakers at the Lavender Festival, presenting “Getting Lavender into Your Food: Salts, Sugars, Syrups, Infusions and Steeping.”
“You can go really, really wrong with lavender if you use too much,” Barrett said.
“If it’s overdone, it tastes medicinal. You don’t want it to be the first note, you want it to be the background flavor.”
Barrett said she often makes tea or wine coolers with lavender-infused water, an application that plays the floral hints of lavender in counterpoint to citrus flavors.
Lavender is often used in French cooking, especially in the spice mixture known as herbes de Provence, which combines dried lavender with thyme, rosemary and other Mediterranean herbs.
A trip to Provence was the catalyst for the first Texas lavender farm. In 1999, Blanco residents Robb Kendrick and Jeannie Ralston noticed that the hot, dry conditions that produced beautiful and fragrant fields of lavender blossoms in France were similar to summers in the Texas Hill Country. They planted 2,000 lavender plants on their hillside; and within a few years, a dozen other local farmers had followed suit, covering the hillsides in a purple haze.
Barrett included lavender in her garden at her ranch home, Juniper Hills Farm.
“We started out with 500 plants, just for fun,” she said.
While only the tiny lavender buds are used in cooking, either by adding crushed flowers directly or by steeping them in water or milk, Barrett has found ways to put the rest of the plant to use.
“You don’t want to cook with stems or leaves, because they’re way too camphor-y,” Barrett said. “They’re wonderful on the grill, though. The smoke gives a different taste than the lavender buds, but it’s definitely a floral note.”
The Hill Country has the highest concentration of Texas lavender farms, but smaller operations are scattered around the state. Chappell Hill Lavender Farm in Brenham, an hour outside of Houston, sells its culinary lavender in kitchen-specialty stores throughout the state, including at The Kitchen Chick in Galveston.
Chappell Hill is open for tours and cut-your-own lavender harvesting during the plant’s two annual blooming seasons, April and May and August through October.
The rest of the year, Jim and Debbie McDowell stay busy making lavender-laced jam, combining it with peaches or berries and lavender tea.
The McDowells’ products are made with the same dried lavender that they sell, and they recommend it for baked goods, sweet breads and lemonade.
- 3 large lemons
- 1 large pitcher of ice cold water with ice
- 1⁄2 cup boiling water
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1⁄2 teaspoon lavender in a tea ball
Squeeze the juice from two lemons. Slice the third lemon thinly.
Combine the boiling water with lavender, let steep 3 minutes, remove lavender and add the sugar and dissolve.
Add the boiled lavender to the pitcher of ice water along with the lemon juice and sliced lemon.
Adjust the amount of lemon juice and sugar to taste.
(Recipe from Chappell Hill Lavender Farm)
Lemon and Lavender Chicken
- 3 pounds chicken, cut in pieces
- 1 heaping tablespoon dried culinary lavender
- 2 garlic cloves, mashed
- leaves of 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme OR 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons honey
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
- Freshly ground black pepper
Place the lavender in a mortar and slightly crush it with the pestle, cracking open the dried buds. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, place the lavender on a clean surface like your kitchen counter or a cutting board and crush it with the back of a wooden spoon.
In a large bowl, add the lavender, garlic, thyme, olive oil, honey, lemon zest and juice and a little black pepper and mix well with a spoon.
Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and coat them well with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or place the chicken pieces with the marinade in a plastic bag suitable for storing food and seal it.
Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 45 minutes or up to 4 hours. If you marinate the chicken for more than 1 hour, place it in the refrigerator and remove it 20 minutes before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the marinated chicken in a roasting tray large enough to fit all the pieces in one layer, drizzle the marinade on top and add salt to taste.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast the chicken for 40-45 minutes until the chicken takes on a golden brown color, the skin becomes crispy and caramelized and the juices run clear and not reddish in color if pierced with a knife or skewer.
(Recipe from “The Little Paris Kitchen,” by Rachel Khoo)
Lavender Pound Cake
- 21⁄2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 lemon, finely grated zest
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons lavender, dried, coarsely crushed or ground
- 3⁄4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 lemon, finely grated zest
Generously grease a large Bundt pan or two loaf pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray; dust lightly with flour, shaking out excess. Do not preheat oven. Sprinkle lavender into the buttermilk; let sit for 10 minutes.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together; set aside.
Beat the butter in bowl of electric mixer fitted with a paddle on medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds.
Gradually add the sugar; continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, only until incorporated after each addition. Mix in zest, lemon juice and vanilla.
Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, starting and ending with the flour. Beat the final addition only until smooth. Do not overmix.
Spoon the batter into the Bundt pan, distributing it evenly throughout. Tap the pan several times on the counter to eliminate air bubbles and level top.
Place pan in oven; set to 325 degrees. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the top is risen and golden in color.
Let the cake cool in the pan about 15 minutes then unmold by inverting the pan onto a wire rack. Cake will be right side up at this point.
Combine the confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir with a rubber spatula until the glaze is smooth and of drizzling consistency.
Spoon the glaze over the top of the slightly cooled cake, letting some run down unevenly on sides.
Sprinkle the lemon zest over the top of the glaze and serve.
(Recipe from Domino Sugar Company)