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I’ve Got Mail!

 
I was drinking a latte and writing, when I heard the sound of mail dropping into my mailbox. Even though, I have a strict rule about not interrupting my morning ritual of writing, I could not resist. I opened my mail box and retrieved my mail – a few fliers, a couple of bills and a postcard announcing a big lake-front house for sale – only $4.5 million. 
 
Then I suddenly wanted to check the front porch. I was expecting a package from Olympic Cellars. So when my eyes landed on a large tubular package, I thought, “Great my wine has arrived.” But then I looked closer and saw the label–“Labyrinth Hill Lavender.”  How exciting!
 
I picked up the package and brought it into my kitchen. When I opened the carton, I could see pink tissue wrapped around a bundle. I pulled the precious bundle out of the carton. It was tied with a purple satin ribbon.
 
 
 I unwrapped the pale pink tissue. The bunch of lavender filled my kitchen  with fragrance and my heart with appreciation for friendship, beauty and summer.
 
 
 
    
 
How exquisite!  A fresh and fragrant bunch of lavender. I recognized it immediately as Grosso – long-stemmed and a rich full fragrance.  Grosso is grown for its oil content, and its fragrance is intoxicating.
 

"Lavender, Sweet Blooming Lavender"

"Lavender, Sweet Blooming Lavender"

Thank you, Susan!  What a sweet surprise! I love your “Care and Feeding Instructions” for my new “Bundle of Joy” and the tutorial on how to weave a lavender wand.
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Dwarfed by a Giant

Since I wrote my book, “Discover Cooking with Lavender,” I’ve learned behind every book, there’s a story with twists and turns, challenges and breakthroughs and plenty of hard work. That’s exactly what fascinated me about “As Always, Julia – The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto.”

Everyone has heard of Julia Child, her masterpiece, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and her popular television program; but what I learned and loved about this book is how Julia stepped onto the culinary stage and became a legend in the culinary world.

“As Always, Julia – The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto” gives us a glimpse of their friendship through their own words. These letters reveal how over a ten-year period, Julia persistently worked at “cookery and bookery,” dealt with setbacks, received encouragement from her mentor Avis DeVoto

, and finally in May 1960 got word that her book proposal had been approved by Knopf.

 As I read the letters of Julia and Avis, I felt inspired by their friendship. Their correspondence tells of recipe-testing, technique trials and the search for clear and understandable descriptions. I could relate to the tough choices about which recipes to include, or how to explain rare ingredients, or how to specify details such as best pan size. How often do you read a book that changes your life? I’m adding these five life lessons into my recipe for success.

"As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

   1. Be generous. When you can help someone, don’t hold back.

In 1952, more than half a century before Facebook, Julia Child responded to a journalist, Bernard DeVoto, who ranted against the American kitchen knife. Julia, living in Paris then, sent him a carbon steel paring knife. That act of kindness was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Julia Child and his wife, Avis DeVoto.

An excerpt from Julia’s March 8, 1952 letter to Bernard Devoto:

“Your able diatribe against the beautiful-beautiful-rust-proof-edge-proof American kitchen knife so went to my heart that I cannot refrain from sending you this nice little French model as a token of my appreciation.”

The journalist’s wife, Avis DeVoto, responded with a letter of thanks. Like many of today’s Facebook “friends,” Julia and Avis corresponded for nearly three years before they finally met one another in July 1954.

   2. Collaborate with people who share your passion.

Excerpt from Avis DeVoto’s letter of March 20, 1953:

“I made a beautiful omelet for my lunch with chives and parsley, but I still have to use a spatula to make it roll. We are going to have poached salmon with beurre blanc for dinner. Honest to God, Julia, you have brought a revolution into this household. I wholly expect the completed book to cause a real revolution.”

   3. Focus on quality, and keep your standards high.

Julia Child - She Never Gave Up!

Julia focused on doing her very best while she worked on her book. This excerpt is taken from her February 12, 1953 letter to Avis.  

“I am determined that this book is to be as perfect as we can possibly make it; and that every point in the basic explanations is to be absolutely mastered and masterfully explained. I think the Sauce chapter is on the whole, a damn good job, and sets us a pretty high standard for the rest . . . which must be even better.”

This excerpt is taken from her February 6, 1955 letter to Avis.

“There will be so many things to come out ahead of us, I refuse to worry, but I want very much to study everything that does appear, so we can try to better it … Which I think we can in many instances. But . . . we weren’t born into the trade, more’s the pity. Had we started in at 12, apprenticed to a good master, we would be far ahead of where we are now. But we also have the advantage of being housewives, which gives a different approach.”

4.   Never give up.

Julia Child worked on her book for ten years. In Paris, she began her formal culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu in 1949. She found friends who shared her interest and perspective on food. In 1952, Julia, along with two friends, taught cooking classes. The three women teamed up to create a cookbook. The book was published in October 1961 by Knopf. By August of 1962, 100,000 copies were sold and by 1974, sales rocketed to 1.4 million books.  Julia’s television series, “The French Chef,” was broadcast between 1963 and 1966. In 2009, the film “Julie and Julia” attracted more attention to Julia Child and her book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Book sales soared. Today this book is considered one of the most influential works in American cookbook history.

5.  Lighten up and be playful.

These women had fun and adopted a playful approach. When I read their letters, and noticed how they lightened up the moment with a chuckle here and there, I realized their light-hearted style added fun by spicing up everyday lives. I will give you several of my favorite examples.

From Julia’s letter to Avis on January 5, 1953:

“I can’t tell you my emotions of love and gratitude for all your interest and hard work on behalf of our book; you display the true marks of a Great Gourmande . . . which always includes the warmest and most generous of natures . . . and is why people who love to eat are always the best people.”

From Julia’s letter of November 2, 1955:

“Certainly don’t want any photos of us on our book, we’ll be too old by that time anyway, and besides I don’t think it helps the appetite and might hurt the sales.”

Avis DeVoto "Foster Mother, Wet Nurse, Guide and Mentor"

From Avis’s letter of February 8, 1953:

“Now that I know Paul {Julia’s husband} is a photographer, I have a definite request to make. (Don’t for the love of God send me any more French cookbooks. …) I want Paul to take a photograph of you at the kitchen stove. With or without decorated fish.”

From Avis’s letter of February 27, 1954:

“You know, it’s funny. By the time we develop real taste in food, and begin to learn how to prepare it, digestive disorders set in and weight piles up. When I think what I could have done in my youth, when I ate like a horse with no bad results at all, with the knowledge I am getting now, I could cry.”

English Lavender

English Lavender on the High Plains of Kansas

Mike Neustrom began his career in the U. S. Navy serving as a diplomatic liaison with U.S. embassies and consulates in foreign ports. Now he grows lavender in Kansas on Prairie Lavender Farm. Check out his website. When you see the images of the neat “ship-shape” rows of lavender growing on his farm, it is easy to imagine him in his navy uniform. Mike now applies the discipline and organizational skills he learned in the Navy to growing lavender.

Mike Neustrom of Prairie Lavender Farm

Mike Neustrom of Prairie Lavender Farm

Prairie Lavender Farm, founded in 2002 on the high plains in north central Kansas, is home to 3500 lavender plants. Situated on 6 ½ acres on the south side of a hill above the Dakota Aquifer, the growing conditions match lavender’s three requirements: full sun, well-drained, alkaline soil. About half of the lavender plants are Lavandula angustifolia varieties, (sometimes called English lavender), the rest are Lavandula x intermedia (hybrids). Prairie Lavender Farm has lavender blooming from June through October with as many as four or sometimes five cuttings.

Mike retired from the Navy plus one more career before lavender began its campaign to win his affection. Mike was seduced by lavender at a roadside market. “By shear accident, I’d gone by a little roadside farmers market in Salina, Kansas. I noticed herb plants for sale. I ended up buying four or five flats of lavender, took them home and planted them in rows,” Mike said. That was how it began.

Lavender fascinated Mike. He wanted to find out where it fit in the botanical world, its history and how the herb was used. 

When Mike went to visit his sister Carole near Austin, Texas, he met Sharon Shipley, author of “The Lavender Cook Book” and coincidentally, Carole’s business partner. Sharon was in Austin to speak at the first Southwest Lavender Conference. Mike attended the conference where he met lavender growers and lavender nursery owners. When he returned to Kansas, he had several hundred Buena Vista lavender plants from Cathy and Sam Slaughter’s Gabriel Valley Farms.

Fresh Bunches of Lavender

To learn more about lavender farming, Mike traveled to Idaho and visited with Al and Peggy Armstrong at their Valley View Farm. He asked them about harvesting, making and packaging products and marketing.

After running Prairie Lavender Farm for the past eight years, Mike still enjoys this labor of love. I caught up with him via telephone last week. He’d just closed his gift shop for the day, and agreed to talk to me about his farm. Earlier that day, he’d hosted two large groups. An RV group, 22 people in all, had stopped by to see the lavender in full bloom on this June day. They’d been at the Kansas Smoky Hill River Festival and had heard about Mike’s farm from a nearby winery. Many people discover Prairie Lavender Farm by “word of mouth.”  Mike said, “I take them out, show them the fields, talk about the history and tell them about the farm.” Later that day, another group of 50 people came up from Wichita for a walk through Mike’s fragrant fields and a visit to his gift shop.

Once, a group of wheat farmers visited the farm. “You know they were dragged out here by their wives,” Mike said, “and they were fascinated with growing and farming aspects. I told them that they quit too early.” On this farm, Mike doesn’t quit until all the lavender is grown, harvested, distilled, dried, and then used to make products that are sold in Prairie Lavender Farm’s gift shop, online or at several retail shops.

Farm Gift Shop

Lavender Farm's Gift Shop

“We make everything on the farm,” Mike added. “I want to know what goes into every one of my products.” Best selling items are Prairie Lavender Room Spray,  Premium Lavender Body Lotion and Lavender Body Butter. He has developed 80 products, all using lavender.

Mike loves to cook with lavender. His favorite variety for culinary use is Buena Vista.“I like its sweet flavor. Some people use Provence, however I prefer Buena Vista for its taste,” said Mike. The herb blend, herbs de Provence, is the seasoning he sprinkles on chicken, pork or fish. Mike cooks chicken seasoned with herbs de Provence in a crock-pot and loves the delicious aroma that greets him when he comes in from the farm for dinner.

This Saturday, June 18th, Prairie Lavender Farm hosts its 3rd Lavender Festival. Here is a list of activities.  Sounds like a great way to spend the day!

  • Tours of our farming/processing operation
  • Demonstrations
  • Lectures on growing lavender
  • Making lavender gifts
  • U-pick bundles
  • Lavender plant sale
  • Live music & art
  • Gift shop open all day

As my conversation with Mike came to a close, I asked Mike what he likes most about his career as a lavender grower. Mike paused, “I am happy to say ‘I haven’t had to sit through even one meeting over the last nine years.’”  Who could have guessed that a twenty-year career in the navy would be the perfect preparation for creating a successful lavender business?

Thirty thousand people flocked to the lavender fields last July during Sequim’s lavender festival. This summer, lavender takes the stage once more to star in Sequim’s festivities July 15-17. Two groups, each with a passion for lavender, are busy as bees buzzing around a lavender field, doing everything possible to make this year’s lavender weekend the best in the festival’s 15-year history.

 Last January, the group that plans and presents the Sequim Lavender Festival split into two groups. The Sequim Gazette reported that “Philosophical and administrative differences within the Sequim Lavender Growers Association led 11 farms and founders to leave the organization.” The farmers who left the group wanted to focus on the farming aspect of lavender, so they formed a new association called the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association. Each group is planning lavender celebrations during this summer’s lavender weekend. The “growers” will host the Sequim Lavender Festival and the “farmers” will present the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire. For lavender fans, this means two farm tours, two community fairs and twice the fun.

To find out what’s happening during this year’s events, I spoke with Mary Jendrucko, Executive Director of the Sequim Lavender Growers Association and also with Scott Nagel, Executive Director of the newly created Sequim Lavender Farmers Association. Jendrucko and Nagel have both been part of Sequim’s lavender festivities for many years.

Sequim Lavender Festival (The growers’ event)

"Mona" winning poster art for Sequim Lavender Growers 2011 Contest

Sequim Lavender Festival selects 2011 Poster Art "Mona" created by Chris Witkowski

This festival offers a tour of seven small farms in the Dungeness valley along with a festive Street Fair in downtown Sequim. The free self-guided Farm Tour is billed as a U-Tour, meaning you get a map and drive to the farms. Each farm will offer U-Pick lavender. You will experience the aroma of  lavender, see gazebos in the middle of a purple field and browse in charming gift shops. “For anyone considering small-scale farming, this is a great opportunity to see firsthand what works and visit with the people who make it work,” Jendrucko said. The farms open to the public are:

Blackberry Forest

Martha Lane Lavender

Oliver’s Lavender Farm

Nelson’s Duck Pond

Lost Mountain Lavender

Peninsula Nurseries

The Lavender Connection

Ed Hume, a northwest gardening celebrity, will kick off the festival at the Street Fair Friday July 15.  On Fir Street between Sequim and Third Avenue, 150 vendors will sell lavender and lavender products. Thirteen members of the Sequim Lavender Growers Association will be selling their lavender products at the Street Fair. The colorful booths will line the street with products such as hand-crafted jewelry created by Rockin Rocks jewelry or lavender-scented dog bandanas created by The Sequim Lavender Company.This event showcases Northwest juried artisans and their craftsmanship. A quilt donated by the Sunbonnet Sue Club will be raffled off. You can buy a raffle ticket at the Sequim Lavender Growers Association booth at the street fair. The proceeds of the raffle go to the Sequim High School scholarship fund.

A food court serving wine, beer and international cuisine will be a lively spot for a lunch break or snack. Local wines and beer are featured and this summer you can buy a Sequim Lavender Festival wine glass filled with Lavender Wine!  Live music adds to the jovial atmosphere with Pearl DJango, a gypsy jazz band, performing at the Street Fair on Friday evening.

Buses will shuttle people to and from the free parking sites to the Street Fair.

Sequim Lavender Farm Faire (The Farmers’ Event)

Sequim Lavender Farmers 2011 Wining Poster Art

Sequim Lavender Farm Faire Announces 2011 Poster Art "Lavender Fields, Forever" by Patricia Taynton

The classic Lavender Farm Tour and Lavender in the Park headline the NEW Sequim Lavender Farm Faire. The Lavender Farm Tour takes you to six farms, each with its own food, demonstrations, crafts, music and, of course, fields of lavender. “Meet the Farmer” takes place every day at 1 p.m. at each farm. The farmer will answer questions about growing lavender and guide you through the fields. They will share their techniques for growing, harvesting, drying and using lavender. Demonstrations will show how to distill lavender oil and how lavender can add an exotic taste to food. Culinary lavender will be featured on Sunday, July 17, Each of the six farms have arranged for demonstrations showing culinary techniques for using lavender.

The six farms in this tour are famous for their exquisite beauty:

Cedarbrook Lavender & Herb Farm

Olympic Lavender Farm

Port Williams Lavender

Purple Haze Lavender Farm

Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

Washington Lavender (making its début on the tour)

Farm Tour hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Tickets give you unlimited access and free parking at the farms throughout the weekend and a free shuttle from Carrie Blake Park (the venue for Lavender in the Park).  

  • Advance tickets for the Farm Tour are $10 at the farms, local ticket outlets, and online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/162027.

  •  Advance tickets may be purchased until 6pm Thursday July 14th either online or at many ticket outlets in Sequim and Port Angeles. All Things Lavender in the Pike Place Market will  also  sell tickets for the Farm Tour.
  • Ticket sold during the festival weekend are $15 per person. Military personnel and their dependents pay $10 per person. Children 12 and under are free.
  • If you get your “passport” stamped at three or more farms plus Lavender in the Park, you can enter a drawing for prizes such as an overnight stay, gift basket or gift certificate from local stores.

Lavender in the Park, the newest part of the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire, will be located at the beautiful Carrie Blake Park. Admission is free.

More than 150 booths including food, crafts, nonprofit organizations and agricultural programs will be set up in the park. Check out these  presentations:  

  •  TheNorthwest Raptor Center will have their “Ambassador Birds” (birds who have been rescued and rehabilitated).
  •  There is plenty of parking on-site ($2 donation per car as a fundraiser for the Sequim High School Band) and then the Farm Tour buses that take ticket holders to the farms.
  •  Artists, photographers, glass makers and other artisans will display their work. One of the unique items for sale is Moosedream Lavender Farm’s Full Moon Dog Shampoo, advertised as an herbal concoction for dogs who want to smell as good as they look!  Other special treats such as lavender pillows, jewelry and glass etchings will be available. 

Carrie Blake Park with spacious lawns and lovely gardens will provide a relaxing and open area for the entire family. This location will be the hub for the buses connecting the Lavender Farm Tour and the people who come to visit from around the world.

Music at the James Center for the Performing Arts [band shell and amphitheater] will feature evening concerts from a Beatles Tribute band, Crème Tangerine, on Friday, and “Stompin’ at the Park” with Cort Armstrong and the Blue Rooster Band on Saturday.

Spend a Weekend in Sunny Sequim

Discover Cooking with Lavender

Discover Cooking with Lavender

Mark your calendar for the third weekend in July and get ready for a weekend where there is something for everyone. Sequim, located on the Olympic Peninsula, has many regional attractions such as Bird Walk in Railroad Bridge Park, Sequim Art studio Tour and Olympic Peninsula Wineries Tour.

My book, Discover Cooking with Lavender, will be available at the Monte Vista Medicinal Herb Farm’s Booth at the Street Fair, at Olympic Lavender Farm, Purple Haze and Washington Lavender. You can also find my book at Lavender and Lace Gift Boutiquein Sequim and at All Things Lavender at Seattle’s Pike Place Market and at the Made In Washington Stores  in the Seattle area.

It Began with Pancakes

 

Pacific Wine and Kitchen

Pacific Wine and Kitchen

At the age of eleven, Lindalee woke one morning determined to make pancakes for breakfast.  Her light and fluffy flapjacks hinted at her life-long passion for food. Throughout her childhood, she’d watched her father in the kitchen while he cooked his special pot roast, made birthday cakes and prepared school lunches for her and her three siblings. Lindalee, who’d grown up in a somewhat turbulent household, could always count on the dinner hour to bring the family together. Eating and enjoying home-made meals at the dining room table meant love, caring and closeness. Many years later, these early connections with food became the inspiration for Lindalee McCandlis’s decision to create her cooking school, Pacific Culinary Studio, and her retail shop, Pacific Wine and Kitchen.

Located in Everett, Washington, the studio and shop celebrates local artisans, the art of cooking and the pleasure of eating home-made and home-grown food.  Owned by Lindalee and her husband, Dewey McCandlis, Pacific Culinary Studio is more than a demonstration kitchen and cooking school; it is part of Pacific Wine and Kitchen, a retail store offering wine and kitchen equipment. “In 2003, Dewey and I opened this business as an extension of our combined love of the food and wine culture,” said Lindalee. Sharing new ways to nurture family and friends, and inspiring people to gather together around the family table are at the core of their mission.

I met Lindalee when I attended a cooking class at her studio last year. She introduced Leesa Sulivan, the guest chef for the evening. As if hosting a large dinner party, Lindalee made her guests feel comfortable as she turned the kitchen “stage” over to Leesa, and supported her by assisting when necessary, then plating and serving food to about 20 people.  The classroom was set up with long tables set with water, napkins, silverware and recipe packets. The 12’ by 3’ granite kitchen counter provides a spacious work area. Two ovens, a gas range, large refrigerator plus every kitchen gadget you’d ever want made this a dream kitchen. The chef’s every move is reflected in a mirror hanging above the counter. When the studio kitchen is not used for classes, Lindalee frequently invites friends to make dinner together. The studio is also used for special events such as corporate team building, DVD production (culinary videos) , bridal showers or book clubs.

At an early age, Lindalee discovered her interest in food and cooking, but I wanted to know how she had acquired her expertise as a chef and cooking instructor.

Lindalee McCandlis

Lindalee Teaching in her Studio Kitchen

With curly blond hair and blue eyes, Lindalee’s classic looks reminded me of a younger Meryl Streep. “When I grew up, I subscribed to Gourmet (magazine). I cooked most of their recipes. I also used the Gourmet cookbooks,” said Lindalee. She learned cooking techniques, hosted dinner parties about twice a month and tried new recipes. Instead of going to culinary school, she got additional training as an apprentice at Nick’s Italian Café. She discovered she had already learned many techniques on her own. “How did I know how to make a Beurre Blanc (white butter sauce)?” she laughed, “By reading Gourmet magazine.”

Lindalee’s passion for cooking is evident when you see her shop, Pacific Wine and Kitchen. The shop is not only well-stocked with kitchen gadgets, beautiful pottery, pots, pans, knives, linens and gourmet food items, it is well organized too. Lindalee’s knowledge adds to the shopping experience. Lindalee has an intuitive understanding for a cook’s needs and can share experience about cooking and entertaining.

Recently, I taught a class at Pacific Culinary Studio. The dessert I had made for class was topped with whipped cream made with a Whipped Cream Charger. It was fun to swirl cream on each plate, I knew I’d have to have one at home. After class, I made a bee-line to the shop to get one for my kitchen.

If you love food, wine, cooking or know someone who does, I encourage you to visit Pacific Wine and Kitchen. This is one of the best shops in the Everett area for food and wine aficionados. You can also sign up for a cooking class in June. Lindalee is teaching “Fresh, No Stress Entertaining,” and Rachel Duboff presents “The Italian Grill – Hands On”. Check out the full schedule here.

I think you will agree that Lindalee and Dewey, are accomplishing their goal  – sharing exciting new ideas and inspiring us to discover the joy food can bring to our friends and family. See where pancakes can lead.

 

Lindalee at Pacific Culinary Studio

Learning to Cook with Lindalee

 

 

 

 

An Inspiring Novel about Women, Friendship & Walking

 This book popped onto my “must read” list last summer when I was at the Sequim Lavender Festival. I was at Olympic Lavender Farm to share my knowledge of cooking with lavender. The big juicy mango had nearly slipped out of my hand while I was dicing it. I was making Summer Mango Salsa with Latin Lavender Seasoning when several women stopped by my table to chat about food, cooking and lavender. The women had traveled from Tennessee.  “We are following in the footsteps of the Wildwater Walking Club,” they told me. “The Wildwater Walking Club is a novel about three women who travel to Sequim for the lavender festival.”

I jotted down the title. I was surprised when several more women mentioned this book during the festival. Many months later, I found the book at the Seattle Public Library and checked it out.

If you love lavender or enjoy an inspiring story, you will be charmed by Claire Cook’s story of three women who discover the joy of friendship, the power of walking and the wisdom of life.

The story is narrated by Noreen Kelly, a mid-level manager who took a buy-out package from the athletic shoe company where she had worked for many years. As if losing her job was not enough, Noreen is also dumped by her boyfriend. Noreen’s life has suddenly changed and she sinks into depression and grief. At one point she wonders, “Maybe without a job, I didn’t have a self.”

Noreen lives in a townhouse in Marshbury, Massachusetts.  Focused on her career, Noreen doesn’t know her neighbors, hasn’t looked at her garden and ignored her own needs. Now with time to herself, she begins to pay attention to her wants and needs.

Noreen begins a daily walking routine first alone, and soon with two neighbor friends. Day by day, she reclaims her life and personality. Rosie, the lavender-growing neighbor, plants lavender in Noreen’s garden. Tess gives Noreen a clothesline. The three women walk together and their friendship blossoms. They decide to pool their frequent flier points and travel to Sequim for the Lavender Festival. To learn about their adventure at Sequim, known as America’s Provence, you will need to read the book. I loved following these three women as they arrived in Seattle, drove to Sequim and experienced the lavender festival. However for me, the best part of this book is watching Noreen transform her life from a corporate wasteland to a world of friendship, adventure, lavender and love.

The Mexican Garden in central Texas

My husband John and I were in Ashland, Oregon in early August when I received an intriguing email.  Beth Patterson’s email invited me to speak at the Southwest Lavender Conference. Beth had participated in my class, A Lavender Feast, in Sequim, Washington several years ago. She lives in Texas where she owns a gift shop, Lavender and Old Lace. When Beth learned that my book, Discover Cooking with Lavender, was available she suggested me as a speaker. I felt happy to be invited to attend the conference and enthusiastic about demonstrating my lavender-inspired recipes.

Lavender may be an ancient herb, however lavender farms and festivals are a recent phenomenon in Texas. I was surprised to learn that Texas is home to about 50 lavender farms and the conference in February 2011 will be the 4th Southwest Lavender Conference. Lavender enthusiasts from Texas, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona and Colorado will learn about growing and marketing lavender, and share their knowledge with one another. The event will take place February 18 -20, 2011 in Kerrville, located in central Texas about 100 miles west of Austin.

I’d read the Unexpected Lavender Queen, Jeannie Ralston’s memoir of becoming a Texas lavender grower, so I knew a little about how lavender became a trend in central Texas in the early part of the 21st century. Still I was curious about how the Southwest Lavender Conference got started. I wanted to know more about this event, so I contacted Cathy Slaughter, treasurer of the Texas Lavender Association and owner of Gabriel Valley Farms. Cathy organized and underwrote the first conference in 2006. “As people in Texas were getting into growing lavender, they had lots of questions.  Since they bought their starts from me, they would ask about pruning, disease, marketing, oil distillation and more. One time someone called and asked if I could get a tractor for plowing their fields.” Cathy realized there was a need for education. She was aware of the benefits from networking, and decided to offer seminars. The first conference brought people together so they could learn from one another and share their experience.

Mendola Walkway

The 1st Southwest Lavender Conference attracted 100 people. The speakers included Sharon Shipley, author of The Lavender Cook Book, Susan Dietz and other experts on growing and using lavender. The attendees welcomed the opportunity to learn how one another approached lavender cultivation and product creation. Cathy expanded the conference to include nearby states with similar growing conditions, so it became the Southwest Lavender Conference. 

 Cathy’s vision of lavender growers working together culminated in the formation of the Texas Lavender Association in 2009. Its mission is “to promote the research, education, growth, market development and distribution of lavender and lavender products.” Chelita Riley, president of the Texas Lavender Association, led the effort to win a specialty crop block grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture. The grant was awarded for:

  •  Developing and implementing educational programs to support lavender growers and potential lavender growers
  • Increasing awareness of the Texas lavender industry by providing conference topics and speakers
  • Conducting bi-annual workshops
  •  Developing marketing materials to promote the lavender industry

In Texas, grants have been awarded to the grapefruit industry, the pecan growers and watermelon producers, but this was a first for the Texas lavender industry.

 

And of course I want you to attend my culinary demonstration on Friday, February 18th at 1 p.m.  You will discover the taste of lavender in an array of gourmet recipes from Lavender Lemon Soda to Latin Mango Salsa and more.

Becker Vineyard Entrance

The conference agenda offers an array to topics. Organized into two tracks, the first will focus on production with presentations about growing, pruning; propagating and distilling. The second track will address the issues of promoting and marketing.

The complete agenda with a list of presentations and speakers can be found at the Texas Lavender Association website. Registration information is also available here. If you are growing lavender or considering it, you will not want to miss this event.

 The weekend ends with an adventure, a “Tuscany in Texas ” tour. The tour includes visits to a lavender farm, an olive farm, several wineries, followed by a wonderful Italian meal with a Tuscan touch, and an introduction to touring opportunities in France and Italy. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend in February than to enjoy Texas with a Tuscan flavor.