Forget those little lavender scented drawer sachets, there’s far more to that fragrant shrub than making your socks and sweaters smell like a summer’s day in Provence. I have been championing the culinary use of this herb since ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ (you can find the recipe here), because I love the floral elegance it can lend to a sweet or savoury recipe. The key is to use it with caution, as the flavour can pervade and lend a somewhat soapy undertone to an otherwise delicious dish. When it comes to cooking with lavender, less is definitely more. As a Francophile, lavender was always associated with the South of France, but spending this summer in London has revealed otherwise. Window boxes in the city seem to be loaded with beautiful English lavender, which is more fragrant than its French counterpart, while the latter is deemed the more aesthetically pleasing but less punchy on the nose. For culinary uses, English lavender is the favoured varietal, and is generally the one also used for cosmetic purposes.
You can grow it yourself (be sure to make sure no pesticides have been used if you are purchasing from a garden centre) and harvest it for using in your cooking. Here’s a handy tutorial for drying your own. The fresh flowers can be added to the tops of salads, but the flavour intensifies with drying, so I tend to only use dried lavender in moderation and cooked in dishes.
As with many garden herbs, lavender works particularly well in desserts and comes into its own when used for infusing milk, cream or custard. It adds a subtle floral note and summer garden vibe to a panna cotta or a ganache (try my truffle recipe here but leave 1tsp of culinary lavender to infuse in the cream for 30 minutes, then strain, discarding the lavender, and pour on the chocolate). Or try it as the French do, in a caramel-topped crème brûlée. If you are planning a garden gathering this summer, why not try my Lavender and Raspberry scones.
Why not do as Martha would do, and make your own lavender soap.