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Lida Lafferty, author of "Spike It with Lavender"

Lida Lafferty, Author of Spike it with Lavender: Recipes for Living

The charming book,  Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living by Lida Lafferty, offers many creative ways to use lavender. The book presents a collection of ideas and recipes for drinks, savories, sweets and even household items such as lavender dryer bags and lavender mist.

I find many reasons to praise this book and rejoice in its genesis. Lafferty, a speech pathologist living in western Colorado, never intended to grow lavender. She certainly couldn’t have guessed that she would ever create a lavender recipe book.

Honeybees sparked Lafferty’s interest in lavender. In 2008 she worried about her honeybees and wanted to give them a healthy and abundant food source. From Colorado State University’s Extension office, she learned that honeybees thrive on sage, yarrow and lavender. Lafferty was already growing sage and yarrow on her 2 ½ acres in Grand Junction. For the sake of her bees, she put in 75 lavender plants and added more the next season.

Honeybees Thrive on Sage

Honeybees Thrive on Sage

All summer Lafferty’s lavender filled her fields with fragrant purple blossoms. Her honeybees hovered over the flowers, foraging for pollen. One day Lafferty was harvesting lavender. Everywhere she looked, she saw honeybees enjoying the magnificent flowers. Lafferty felt guilty about taking away the bees’ food. She found herself talking to them, saying, “Okay ladies, half of this lavender belongs to you, I get the rest.” Lavender had become a character in her story.

Yarrow Attracts Bees

Yarrow Attracts Bees

Lafferty joined the Lavender Association of Western Colorado. Colorado’s arid climate, high altitude and alkaline soil gives the herb everything it desires. Farmers planted lavender as a cash crop. It adds to income from cherries, peaches and wine grapes.

Lavender: A Treat for Honeybees

Lavender: A Treat for Honeybees

When Lafferty met with other lavender growers, the conversation buzzed about their dream of a lavender celebration. Some had attended the Sequim Lavender Festival. They were excited and eager for a gathering in Colorado. Lafferty tossed out her idea. “I think it’d be great if we had our own association cookbook which would be an ideal ‘take-home’ item for festival attendees.”

The association published Lafferty’s book in 2011. Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living contains a collection of recipes. Well-known chefs, lavender growers and talented home cooks contributed recipes. This approach yielded diversity; each recipe reflects the creator’s experience and personality.

Professional chefs relied on their culinary training and skill in pairing flavors and textures, however some had not yet discovered lavender as a culinary ingredient. Lafferty sent them lavender honey and lavender buds. She asked them to experiment with it and contribute their recipes. Lafferty converted these chefs from skeptics to believers. Their recipes showcase tasty ways to use lavender.

Growers with years of experience using lavender generously gave many recipes to this book. From this group, special mention goes to Roxi Lane from Dayspring Farm for sharing her “top secret creations” such as Dayspring Farm Lavender Espresso Brownies. Also Paolo Legarre’s Sage Creations Lip Balm stands out for its simplicity.

From talented home cooks, the book gives us family favorites that have been perfected over generations. These range from Gram Jane Molasses Cake with Lavender contributed by Julie Zahniser (in honor of her mother) to Sheila’s Herb Chicken Stew contributed by Nancy Lofholm.

Amy Nuernberg created the book’s artistic cover and tabs. Artist Susan Metzger contributed her batik design along with original art and local photographs. These work well with Lafferty’s clever idea to use a ring-binder for easy reference while cooking and to enable expansion.  The 2012 recipe collection has recently become available. She’s now collecting recipes for the 2013 edition.  If you want to contribute one of your recipes, you can find her submittal guidelines on the Lavender Association’s website. March 31, 2013 is the last day for submittal.

Bound in a Three-ring Binder, the Book Expands with New Recipes Each Year.

Bound in a Three-ring Binder, the Book Expands with New Recipes Each Year.

Another helpful feature of this book informs readers of the wide range of lavender varieties, each with their own flavor and fragrance profile. Some are sweet, others spicy; some are subtle, others bold.

For culinary use, Lafferty recommends English Lavender which comes in hundreds of varieties. Because many recipes in the book specify certain varieties such as Miss Katherine, Folgate or Croxton’s Wild, readers discover many flavor choices.

Lavender Varieties Each with their Own Flavor

Lavender Varieties Each with their Own Flavor

Kathy Kimbrough, founder and past president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado, said, “What I like best about this book is that it’s accessible and affordable.”

Kimbrough added, “The book has been great for our association. It educates people who are just discovering lavender as a culinary herb, increases the sales of culinary lavender, and provides us with an ongoing revenue stream.”

When the association held their first lavender festival in 2011, Lafferty’s suggestion came to fruition. Many festival attendees went home with a copy of Spike It with Lavender. The 2012 festival attracted about 2000 people. The 3rd festival is scheduled for July 12-14, 2013.

Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, why not give your favorite foodie a unique gift? Spike it with Lavender: Recipes for Living!  And if your Valentine likes sweet treats, but not cooking, give him or her CakeLove Chewy Cookies, one of Lafferty’s favorite recipes. Put them in a fancy package tied with a red bow and include your own love note. And when you pop the question, “Please be my Valentine?” the answer will be “yes.”

For Love & Romance, Bake CakeLove Cookies for your Sweetie!

For Love & Romance, Bake CakeLove Cookies for your Sweetie!

 

CakeLove Chewy Cookies

Re-printed here with permission from Lida Lafferty, author of “Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

Bake these on parchment lined cookie sheet to the point where the dough won’t give when you poke them. Choose from a few choices of mix-ins to get your favorite flavor, or customize by mixing and matching. I love the warmth you get from the honey and the pretty bouquet that comes from the lavender. Enjoy!   ~Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove and Love Cafe

 

¼ cup Lavender infused Honey*

½ cup superfine or plain granulated sugar

½ cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 tsp. lemon zest

3 oz. unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg

1 (optional) egg yolk

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. sea salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

Flavor Mix-ins:

½ cup whole rolled oats

½ cup candied ginger pieces

Or

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup pecan pieces or almond slices

Or

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ cup almond slices

¼ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 to 315 °F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.

*Note: To make Lavender-Infused Honey, combine ¼ cup to 1/3 cup dried lavender buds and 1 cup honey in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Let stand, turning the jar upside down periodically. After a week, discard lavender buds by filtering through a sieve. It’s now ready to use.

Mix honey, sugars and zest in stand mixer fitted with flat paddle. Slowly add in melted butter and vanilla extract. Add in egg and yolk. Stir to combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon, and then add to mixer. Add mix-in of your choosing and stir until combined. The dough should come off the side of the bowl and barely feel tacky. Add a touch more flour if it’s very sticky.

Scoop out the dough with a trigger ice-cream scooper. Lightly press to flatten to ¼” to ½”. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, remove from oven to cool and serve warm.

Store any leftover dough in an airtight container in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Warren says there’s a fair amount of tolerance in the recipe to withstand variance in the art of mixing and atmospheric conditions (temperature and pressure).

So here’s what you need to know. It’s soft, not crispy, because of the honey. It’s chewy! No worries about altitude adjustments. It’s scrumptious, one of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. 

Make them after school with your children, after work, or at midnight. Linger with good talk, a glass of milk, and this good cookie.

Thanks to Warren Brown of CakeLove, Washington, DC area.     ~Lida Lafferty


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Simple,Elegant & Sensational - Semifreddo

New Year’s Dessert – Simple & Elegant Semifreddo

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When New Year’s Day rolls around, I celebrate with a feast. I believe “beginning with the end in mind,” one of Stephen Covie’s seven habits for highly effective people, is essential when planning a celebration dinner. That’s why I give special attention to dessert. To ring in 2013, I will serve an Italian frozen dessert, called semifreddo. This is Italian for “half cold.”

You may wonder how I discovered this frozen treat. Martha Stewart’s December issue of Everyday Food arrived and on the very last page, I spotted a recipe for “Lemon-Raspberry Semifreddo.” I frequently study Martha’s recipes to find opportunities to use lavender to enhance the flavor. My mouth watered as I imagined combining lemon, raspberries and lavender.

I’d never made a semifreddo, but when I read the recipe, I loved the simplicity. Not only easy to make, this dessert requires only 15 minutes of preparation. I also like anything that can be ready ahead of time and that gives me more time to visit with my guests. This dessert must hang out in the freezer for 8 hours or more, waiting off stage for its big moment.

I was curious about how semifreddo fits into the world of ice cream, gelato, custards and mousse. After consulting Harold McGee’s comprehensive book, “On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” I realized ice cream comes in various “styles.”

  • Standard or Philadelphia-style ice creams made from cream and milk, sugar, and a few other minor ingredients.
  • French or custard ice cream contains an additional ingredient, egg yolks, as many as 12 per quart/liter.
  • Reduced-fat, low-fat, and non-fat ice creams contain progressively less than the 10% specified in the commercial definition of ice cream.
  • Kulfi, the Indian version of ice cream that goes back to the 16th century, is made without stirring from milk boiled down to a fraction of its original volume, and therefore concentrated in texture-smoothing milk proteins and sugar. It has a strong cooked-milk, butterscotch flavor.

Semifreddo belongs to the custard ice cream style. However in this recipe, we skip the extra task of making custard because we use lemon curd in its place. Lemon curd contains lemon juice, sugar and eggs. If you want to make your own lemon curd, I recommend this recipe. Add lavender sugar to introduce lavender into your lemon curd.

I’m excited to have discovered semifreddo just in time for 2013. During this coming year, I will continue to experiment with new flavor combinations. What about a chocolate semifreddo with layers of crushed hazelnut biscotti and lavender flavoring for Valentine’s Day!

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

____________________________________

Semifreddo with lemon, lavender and raspberrues

Lemon, Lavender, Raspberry Semifreddo

 

 

Lavender-Lemon-Raspberry Semifreddo

A luscious and creamy dessert reminds me of ice cream. The Italian word “semifreddo” means “half cold” and refers to a partially frozen dessert. – Serves 8

Ingredients

6 ounces of raspberries

2 tablespoons lavender sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup lemon curd

10 ladyfingers

½ cup fresh berries soaked in 2 tablespoons of black berry liqueur

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1.    Line a 4½ by 8½-inch loaf pan with 2 sheets of plastic wrap leaving a 3 inch overhang on long sides. In a blender, puree raspberries and lavender sugar scraping down sides to mix in sugar. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on solids: Discard solids.

2.    In a large bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold in lemon curd. (You can make your own lemon curd or to keep it simple, you can buy high quality lemon curd at your grocery store. I used MacKays 100% Natural Fruit Lemon Curd.) Spoon 2 cups cream mixture into pan and smooth top.

3.    Dip ladyfingers (I used Bouvard French Lady Fingers that I bought at my local grocery store.) in raspberry purée and arrange in pan, parallel to long edge. Pour remaining raspberry purée on ladyfingers. Top with remaining cream mixture and smooth top.

4.    Wrap pan with overhanging plastic and freeze 8 hours (or up to 2 weeks). To serve, invert onto a serving platter, remove plastic and slice.

5.    Garnish each slice with grated dark chocolate and fresh berries soaked in blackberry liqueur.

semifreddo-014

New Year’s Day Dessert – Lemon-Lavender-Raspberry Semifreddo

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In November 2012, I traveled to Canada to speak at the Ontario Lavender Conference. During this two-day gathering, I discovered a vibrant, inspiring and collaborative community of lavender enthusiasts.

         

Ontario Lavender

Ontario Lavender

Ontario’s lavender industry grew out of a small study group formed in 2003. Later in 2010, it blossomed into the Ontario Lavender Association. During this time, Ontario’s farmers were seeing a shift impacting farming opportunities.

  • Tobacco, which had been Southern Ontario’s leading horticultural cash crop, diminished. Demand plummeted due to health concerns, cigarette taxes and new government policies. In 1970, 3,000 farms grew tobacco in Canada; today the number has dropped to about 650.
  • Fruit orchards, burdened with high labor costs, struggled to compete with growers around the world. Prices dropped and income dwindled.
  •  Raising hogs no longer supplied enough revenue to cover costs.
The Lavender Farm owned by Bob & Barb Gilles

The Lavender Farm owned by Barb & Bob Gillies

The situation was clear. Some families who had farmed their land for generations needed to cultivate new crops. Farmers transitioned into various horticultural crops including grapes, a wide range of vegetables and other fruit crops.  Some Ontario farmers shifted to growing lavender.  

These farmers imagined a new industry. One that would use lavender in an array of value-added products such as soap, shampoo and seasonings, and at the same time attract tourists to visit their lavender fields during the summer bloom. Revenue would come from farm boutiques, tours and on-line shops. However, before purchasing and planting thousands of lavender plants, the growers wanted to feel confident that their plants would survive Ontario’s cold winters.

Bonnieheath Lavender Snuggled Up for Winter Weather

Bonnieheath Lavender Snuggled Up for Winter Weather

To discover which kinds could survive the winter, a trial tested 27 varieties at six sites in southern Ontario. Additional testing would evaluate lavender varieties to rate their visual beauty, oil quality and content and bloom time, for example how many weeks the bloom endures.

Chaired by Anita Buehner, who is co-owner of Bonnieheath Lavender, the Ontario Lavender Association obtained a research grant from the Sand Plains Community Development Fund. The money would fund research to find suitable lavender varieties for Ontario’s growing conditions. Growers who hosted the trials paid the cost of the plants; and the University of Guelph, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Erie Innovation and Commercialization provided support. Growers, government ministries, industry associations and academia, all worked together to launch Ontario’s lavender industry.

Working Together to Grow Ontario Lavender

Working Together to Grow Ontario Lavender

Research will continue for three years. Additional funding came from OMAFRA New Directions Research Fund. A detailed report summarized the findings related to the survivability  of lavender varieties.  This report is available on the  Ontario Lavender Association’s. According to the report, “…lavandins did not survive as well as angustifolias.” and “The highest rated angustifolias were Folgate, Betty’s Blue, and Blue River ….”

 The Ontario Lavender Association now has 25 members, and in November 2012, hosted its first Ontario Lavender Conference. Jan Schooley, owner of Apple Hill Lavender, and Dr. Sean Westerveld, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, co-chaired the event. The agenda focused on “The Business of Lavender.”

Ontario Lavender Conference

Kathy Gehrt Celebrates Ontario’s Lavender Conference

Seventy-four people went to the conference. Attendees included growers, artisans, and research professionals. Most participants came from Canada; however several growers traveled from Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania to learn about Ontario’s lavender experience. Mary Tate Bergstrom represented the United States Lavender Growers Association.

Echo Lane Lavender's Display at Ontario Lavender Conference

Echo Lane Lavender’s Display at Ontario Lavender Conference

When I read about a banquet with “lavender-inspired culinary delights,” I was intrigued. Lavender played a leading role in the menu. Green salad served with savory dressing demonstrated lavender’s ability to accentuate the fresh flavor of vegetables. The main course, chicken, mashed potatoes and cauliflower, combined many flavors. Herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs such as lavender, rosemary, basil and thyme, seasoned the potatoes perfectly. The finale, mixed berry trifle with lavender-infused cream, silenced the room as diners relished the flavor. 

 

Pat Earls, an Ontario Lavender Association member and owner of Lavenders of Norfolk, created the recipes, and the chef received kudos for his preparation. This banquet not only exceeded my expectations, it provided positive proof of lavender’s culinary versatility. (Thank you to Pat Earls for sharing her recipes and giving me permission to share them on my blog:  Lavender Salad Dressing, Herbes de Provence Mashed Potatoes and Lavender Berry Trifle.

After dinner I gave the keynote presentation, “Lavender Business Models from around the World.” Farms I featured included:Ali’i Kula Lavender, Bridestowe Estate, White Oak Lavender Farm, Forest Green Man Lavender, and Becker Vineyards. Each of these farms exemplifies successful agri-tourism strategies.

The next morning I talked about the culinary connection. My topic was how to use culinary lavender to stir up profits. As a foodie, I especially like to discuss flavor combinations. This presentation generated a good discussion. Questions ranged from “Can lavender stems be used in cooking?” to “Have you experimented with hydrosol to flavor food?” I can’t wait to try these ideas, and when I do, I will post the results on my blog.

On the drive to the airport for my flight back to Seattle, I felt honored to have been a speaker at this event. I’d met new lavender growers, and I was inspired by their resilience and enthusiasm. I don’t know whether lavender will replace the income lost from tobacco, fruit and hogs; however I do know the Ontario growers will transform their region into purple fields of lavender in the summer season.

I am already planning my return to Ontario; but my next trip will be in summer when lavender will be in full bloom.

         

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Lavash and Lavender Seasoning Together at Last

“Have you ever made lavash?” asked my friend, Mike Neustrom, lavender grower from Kansas.

“Lavash?” I said, “What is it?”

 Then like a game-show contestant trying to respond before the buzzer, I burst out, “Wait. Is it a type of cracker or flatbread?”

Mike said he’d been wondering how it would taste with lavender seasoning. I could not resist this culinary challenge and pledged to find out.

My first surprise came when I looked through my 1970’s “Joy of Cooking.” The index didn’t list “lavash”, however when I searched for “flatbread”, I found a description (“Armenian, Greek, Arab, Syrian, Euphrates Bread”) along with a recipe. More questions entered my mind, such as where and when this bread originated, how it was first made and what role did it serve in the country’s cuisine.

Further research revealed the answers to these questions. Flatbreads date back nearly 10,000 years. Grain mashed and mixed with water or milk created dough that became the earliest form of bread. The dough was rolled thin and cooked over high heat.  The quick cooking time preserved scarce fuel. This method of converting grain into bread provided a durable and portable source of nourishment throughout the winter.

Many countries developed their own version of flatbread. Lavash originated in Armenia in the Caucasus.

Seattle Public Library - Books about Armenian Cuisine

Other flatbreads are: Matzo in Israel, Lefse in Norway and Naan in India. In the United States, Americans eat English muffins, soda crackers and pretzels, descendants of ancient flatbreads. For a complete list, check out Harold McGee’s book, “On Food and Cooking.

Where did lavash get its name? It’s an Armenian name with two parts. The first part “lav” means “good”. And “ash”, the second part, means “food, meal”. When joined, the meaning is “good food”.

In pursuit of a lavash recipe, I turned to the internet. Googling “lavash recipe” returned more than 600,000 hits including a recipe on All Recipes and a link to a “Lavash-Making Challenge”. 

After browsing for a bit, I settled on the lavash recipe posted in the All Recipes website. I selected this one for two reasons: 1.It met my criteria for an unleavened version (no yeast and on baking powder) and 2. Readers gave it rave reviews and offered tips for baking and serving.

Lavash recipe in hand, I was ready to bake. First I took a quick trip to the grocery store to see whether they sold lavash. The day before Thanksgiving, the store was buzzing. Extra employees were helping shoppers. I found one and asked, “Do you sell lavash?” My second surprise that day was when the woman responded, “Yes, follow me.” She led me to the artisan breads and handed me a box of crackers.

Lavash from the Grocery Store - $6.29

I was shocked at the price of $6.29 – for a box of crackers, really? Yes, I bought them, but only because I wanted to compare “store-bought” to “home-made”.

 The ingredients in lavash couldn’t be more basic: Flour, water, sugar, salt, egg white and butter. I mixed the ingredients together into a sticky dough, and then turned it out onto a floured surface, where I kneaded it for 5 minutes. The dough was smooth, soft and stretchy. I inhaled  the bread-like aroma. I cut the dough into 10 portions, and covered them with a damp paper towel. I picked up one of the balls and patted it into a disc, and then began rolling it. I tossed it around and rolled it until it was as thin as a tissue. I carefully lifted the dough onto the baking sheet, brushed it with egg white and sprinkled seasoning on top. I used Tuscan Seasoning, a recipe from my book, “Discover Cooking with Lavender.” Other seasoning options include: Herbes de Provence, basil, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, caraway seeds, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, cumin or sea salt. I slid the baking sheet into the hot oven and felt a connection with ancient times.

Soon the aroma wafting from the oven and filling my kitchen awakened my appetite. I peeked into the oven; the lavash was golden with tiny dimples and puffy bubbles looking like a sun-drenched moonscape. I removed the lavash from the oven, letting  it  cool on a rack. I broke off a piece and put it in my mouth. It tasted warm, rustic and comforting; I tasted the fresh herbal flavor of the lavender and pungent tones of onion and garlic. In my refrigerator, I found sun-dried tomato goat cheese to spread on the lavash.

Lavash - Hot out of the Oven

 I was savoring every moment of this private tasting experience, when I glance over to the kitchen counter and saw that I still had lots of lavash to bake. The recipe makes enough for a crowd, and it was not surprising to discover home-baked lavash surpasses the store-bought version in every way – better flavor, less cost, healthier and more seasoning choice.

 Lavash, not only simple, cheap and filling, gives the creative cook a blank canvas  to showcase aromatic herbs, nuts, seeds, spice and artisan salts to create a flavor masterpiece. I’d recommend serving it with humus, olives, feta and other soft cheeses or salsa. Extremely versatile, lavash can be served as a pizza crust, wrap, dessert cookie or cracker or even an eating utensil to scoop up stew, kabobs or as a plate for rice, beans or vegetables.

So to my friend Mike, I can now report, “Yes and yes: I’ve made lavash, seasoned it with lavender and the entire experience was sensational. Thanks for asking!”    

Lots of Lavash!

– – – – – – –

Tuscan Seasoning                                    

Mix this seasoning with butter or olive oil and spread on a fresh baguette

for delicious lavender garlic bread.

 ½ cup roasted lavender (place culinary lavender buds in hot, dry skillet for about 1 minute, stir until buds are slightly toasted)

¼ cup dried onion flakes

¼ cup dried minced garlic

1 tablespoon salt

 Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process for 10 seconds or until all ingredients are well blended.

  1.  Store seasoning in an airtight container.

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p.s. As I was completing this post, I discovered two other lavash products on the market:

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raspberry and Strawberry Bruschetta. Who doesn't love a quick and easy dessert?

 

 Step 1: Slice Baguette into 1/4 inch pieces. Butter each side of the bread. Place in skillet over medium heat. Toast until golden  brown, then turn and toast the other side. This takes about ten minutes. 

Baguette Sliced and Buttered on both Sides, toasting in Skillet

 

Golden Brown on One Side, the Other Side is Still Toasting.

 
Step 2: Turn off the heat and place a square of chocolate (dark, white or whatever you like) on each baguette slice. 
Chocolate Square on Each Bread Slice

Place a Square of Dark or White Chocolate on Each Slice of Bread

Leave the bread in the skillet. Cover with a lid and let sit for 5 minutes to let the chocolate melt. 

Chocolate Melted and Ready for Berries

When the chocolate becomes soft. Take a small knife and spread it over the bread.
 
Step 3: Move bruschetta slices to platter, and cover with strawberries or raspberries. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and fresh lavender blossoms.

 That’s it! It’s ready to bring to the table.  My kind of dessert: 

Elegant, easy and exotic.   Enjoy!
Berry Bruschetta with Lavender

Berry Bruschetta for Dessert

 

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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?

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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.

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