Lavender! I've always - in the back of my mind - been aware that lavender has culinary applications, but I've never really taken them seriously. I've read about, but never been tempted by, combinations of bitter chocolate with lavender ( and, I confess, I'm still a little iffy about that one - there are very, very few arguments for adulterating chocolate!)....and I recall on one occasion eating some lavender ice cream at the Downderry Lavender farm, near Tonbridge. It was....pleasant. But it didn't particularly have any Wow! factor......just.....pleasant.
We grow lavender. In fairly large quantities. Actually, I have to qualify that. We have been trying to grow lavender in fairly large quantities for the past few years. Increasingly pitiful crops of flowers year-on-year have resulted in deep gloom, and eventually in research as to where we've gone wrong. It was at Chelsea, earlier this year, that we were finally put right, by a lavender expert from the Isle of Wight. Soil far too rich. Lavender loves impoverished soil! (How perverse is that!?!). And so, the lavender plants have now been consigned to death row, and this autumn will be ripped up, in order that the soil can be mixed with 70% gravel, and a new crop planted in their place......The process provokes thought.
In any event, the evening before last, I was pondering the menu for dinner, and more specifically, what to serve as an accompaniment to Fig Ice Cream. I had some nectarines, and decided to try poaching them with some lavender heads. My expectation wasn't high - I thought the result might be vaguely interesting, but no more. I made a sugar syrup, and added the rind and juice of a lemon to it, before submerging the stoned and quartered nectarines. Then I chucked in half a dozen fresh lavender heads - of the few that have actually deigned to appear this year - and wandered off to get on with something else, as I left the fruit gently poaching away. Ten minutes later, wandering past the kitchen french windows I was absolutely stopped in my tracks. The smell was intoxicating! Unbelievable.... And the fruit when chilled and later served was a revelation!
The remaining fruit and syrup will be used this evening for a lavender-nectarine sorbet...but I'm now racking my brains to think what other uses I can find for lavender. I wonder if it would go with Pork?
Risotto of Yellow Pepper and Fagiolini
Grilled Tuna Steaks, with a sauce of Mint, Green Olives, Sultanas and Capers - served with Celery, peeled and sauteed in Butter
Sorbetti of Raspberry and Lavender-scented Nectarine