This herb made it all the way to number 3 on the music charts in 1959 in a song performed by Sammy Turner and written by Larry Morey and Eliot Daniel. Yeah, I’m a music freak too. While I always thought that the song was righteous, I never did understand the Dilly Dilly reference. Given it’s popularity in music, (it was also performed and charted in 1949 by Sammy Kaye #4, Dinah Shore #9, Burl Ives #16, and Jack Smith #17), what can we say about the herb?
Lavender (Lavandula) is ancient. The Romans used it to flavor the water that they washed and bathed in. Even the name is from the Latin “lavare”, to wash. Originally a native of the Mediterranean and Middle East, it is grown widely now. The leaves of lavender are edible, but are usually too strong to be of much use except in the most hardy of recipes. The flowers (actually buds) of all lavender plants are edible. But, each variety, and there are many, will taste a little to a lot different one to the other. The variety Ulta Blue is considered the best for culinary applications.
The flowers are used to flavor sugar for cakes, cookies, meringues, ice creams, and other desserts. It is wonderful added to vinegar, marmalade, jam, or jelly. The flowers can also be tied into a muslin bag and cooked with soft fruits and soft fruit mixtures for a very satisfying dessert or compote.
Lavender is not a common spice, but it is important to the cuisine of Provence, a region in Southern France. Provençal cookery relies heavily on fresh herbs. One very popular blend is Herbes de Provence. Herbes de Provence is an herb mixture usually containing chervil, tarragon, savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, lavender and sometimes fennel. This mixture is used for many dishes of the region, especially fish, but also meat and vegetables; a famous example is ratatouille, a flavorful vegetable stew made of zucchini or squash, tomatoes and eggplant. Yes. This is the dish that the popular animated movie uses for its title.
Many cookbooks, primarily from Europe, suggest lavender for meat (mutton with its strong flavor is an obvious choice) and fish. I like to sprinkle it on a nice juicy steak just before I am ready to take it off the grill and plate it. The combination of lavender and garlic with cheese, especially stronger cheeses like Italian gorgonzola or French roquefort, makes a tasty combination. It is also a common ingredient in herbal and traditional teas. The key to using lavender is to give your imagination and your taste buds free reign. Be experimental, lavender will reward you for it.