Lavender’s Lingering Flavor

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The sweet, relaxing scent that defines many perfumes, sachets, and potpourris, lavender is perhaps most recognized for its aromatherapy and medicinal qualities. An increasingly popular use, however, is for its subtle, lingering flavor in food and beverages.

Lavender is an elusive flavor. It is often not immediately recognized, betrayed only by a beautifully sweet finish on the dish. Although lovely, it is best to use lavender in small quantities — it easily becomes overwhelming when incorporated with a heavy hand.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Lavender Creek Farm

Ruth Hertzfeldt of Lavender Creek Farm in Mackinaw, Illinois likes to use lavender in tea and fudge; it also crops up in savory dishes such as her favorite roast turkey recipe via herbs de Provence, which often includes lavender. Although Hertzfeldt is now comfortable adding the herb to many dishes, it was not always part of her daily repertoire.

“Honey, what do you think about growing lavender?” Hertzfeldt’s husband, Tom, asked after becoming intrigued by a radio segment featuring lavender farming. This simple question turned into a lifelong love affair with lavender.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Diving into the industry in 1999, the couple began growing the fragrant plants for use by friends and family. They quickly outgrew this demand and began selling products commercially. In 2003 they added a gift shop to their property to house their lavender products, which range from soaps to teas to essential oils. From drying to baking to bottling and labeling, each Lavender Creek Farm product is hand-made by Hertzfeldt in her kitchen.

Lavender Creek Farm’s 10 acres are organically grown — farmed and weeded by hand. This is a considerable endeavor, given their largest year’s crop consisted of over 2,000 lavender plants. Lavender, although a lovely, fragrant addition to a garden, can be finicky to grow. Gardeners must monitor watering carefully, as lavender loves hot weather and needs plenty of drainage to thrive.

Lavender Recipes and Culinary Uses

Lavender is a fine addition to many recipes, both savory and sweet. The Herbfarm Cookbook writes of lavender: “All parts of lavender, including the leaves and steams have fragrance and flavor, but the flowers and buds are best for cooking…. Lavender’s flavor goes well with ginger, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, berries, cherries, and plums… Most surprising is the way lavender works in savory dishes… Add the chopped buds to an herb crust for lamb… Lavender is also good with chicken, game birds like quail and pheasant, and some pork dishes.”

When cooking with it, be sure to purchase lavender that is indicated for culinary use. The most common culinary lavender is English lavender, a hardy plant that blooms in early summer.

As one who likes playing with dessert recipes, I incorporated lavender into a pot de crème. Alongside vanilla, the lavender finish was a perfect complement to the silky smooth dessert.

Lavender and Vanilla Pots de Crème
serves four
adapted from Vanilla Pots de Crème recipe on Bitten

2 c heavy cream, light cream or half-and-half
½ vanilla bean
¼ tsp dried lavender buds, finely ground in a mortar and pestle
6 eggs yolks
½ c sugar

1. Heat oven to 300°F. Pour cream into small saucepan and heat until steam rises. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into cream. Add ground lavender, cover pan, and turn off heat. Let steep for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Beat egg yolks and sugar together until light. Pour about a quarter of the cream (remove vanilla bean pod) into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. Pour mixture into 4 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with water halfway up the side of the dishes. Cover with foil.

3. Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until center is barely set. (Heavy cream sets fastest, half-and-half more slowly). The edges should be fully set. Chill, then serve.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Lavender Creek Farm
32379 State Route 9
Mackinaw, IL 61755
OWNERS: Ruth and Tom Hertzfeldt
Mon-Sat 10am-5pm (call for winter hours or large groups)