24 July 2013

A Wander Through a Field of Lavender Inspires Lemony Shrimp and Garlic on Lavender Stems


Monarch Butterfly in the Garden for the Butterfly Effect
Here in the Okanagan Valley we have several lavender farms including a beautiful farm property with sweeping views of Okanagan Lake right here in K-town. Eighteen years ago Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm was the inspiration of the McFadden family to reinvent their heritage property into an agritourism business which today features over 60 varieties of fragrant lavender. 

On Sunday evening we wandered through the farm as they hosted a day of art, butterflies and delicious food and local wine in support of the Central Okanagan Hospice Association. We wandered through row upon row of gentle waves of icy blue, mauve, and deep violet lavender that billowed all around us. The air was vibrating with the hum of bumblebees clinging to the bobbling purple spikes. There was the heady fragrance of thousands of stunning blooms at the peak of their perfection to greet us along the winding pathways as we were enticed by creative dishes by local chef Mark Filatow of Waterfront Wines.



We had a great opportunity to not only check out some amazing “fresh” art but to also help raise funds for the Central Okanagan Hospice Association at Art in the Garden. It reminded me of the late 70's and wandering in southern France among endless fields of gently waving flowers. I pondered this while tasting a refreshing lavender-infused Italian soda carrying a protective vibrant hot pink umbrella and wandering the themed herbal gardens and admiring the array of whimsical vine sculptures, created by local artists dotted throughout the landscape. Is there anything more sensuous than a field of lavender in bloom? Mid July is the peak moment for lavender here in the valley. I was lucky enough to spend some time with fellow food blogger and kindred spirit Dina of Olive Oil and Lemons chatting with locals and visitors alike enjoying the afternoon and celebrating this visually spectacular time. 



An “organic” gathering of artists at the Okanagan Lavender Farm featured the works of some of the valley’s favourite artists, showcasing pieces that incorporate pieces of the farm. For example, Julia Trops had carved a peacock and created its tail out of lavender; Annabel Stanley had created a Cinderella dress using grapevines and lavender; Alex Fong had one of his paintings framed in a barn window; and other artists were busy creating sculptures out of natural materials as well. All of these were available in a silent auction at the end of the evening.


At 12:45 The Butterfly Effect took place where they released orange hued monarch butterflies in memory of loved ones which raised funds over the past few months. Imagine thousands of delicate wings skimming over the lavender fields in the blazing afternoon sun with strains of harp music in the background. We found a bit of shade and savoured our Italian sodas and local wines from Quail's Gate Winery and drank in the atmosphere.

Every artist needs a muse. For the many artistically gifted chefs that have settled in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia it is the quality of the area’s produce that is the muse that has drawn them to this spectacular setting with its grand lakes and sweeping mountains. That quality produce comes from food and wine producers who work with the land to bring forward the very best of its terroir; its taste of place. We were treated to many innovative dishes such as lamb sliders, falafels with roasted tomato chutney, apricots wrapped in prosciutto, salmon and chicken skewers and an array of salads and dips from local celebrity chef Mark Filatow and his team.


It was an enjoyable way to support a local cause. The Central Okanagan Hospice Association, where I volunteered for many years, is committed to community outreach and to meeting the needs of the terminally ill and their families by providing compassionate care and supportive assistance through resources, trained volunteers, and professional counselling.

I have always been passionate about lavender and grew several varieties in "my garden days." It is time to be reminded and explore the culinary side of this versatile herb disguised as a flower. North Americans have not taken to cooking with lavender, but the French, especially in Provence where there are vast fields, use it in the kitchen often. Lavender is sometimes mixed into Herbes de Provence, a blend of thyme, basil, rosemary, lavender and marjoram that is traditionally used to season beef, lamb and pork stews, soups, and as a rub for grilled fish. Locals make lavender infused liqueurs and although I suspect that French lavender farmers must occasionally grill a whole lamb over dried stems, or infuse a creme anglaise with a few stray flowers, written recipes are hard to come by.

Lavender is an incredibly versatile herb for cooking enhancing both the flavour and appearance of food. As an herb, lavender has been in documented use for over 2,500 years. As a member of the same family as many of our most popular herbs, it is not surprising that lavender is edible and that its use in food preparation is also returning. Flowers and leaves can be used fresh, and both buds and stems can be used dried. Lavender is a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage, and thyme. It has a sweet flavour, with lemon, citrus and sometimes peppery notes. Andrea says, "Most people are surprised that lavender does not actually have a floral or soapy taste (which is what they expect)." It is the type of herb where your guests will ask "What's in this dish?" while enjoying every bite.


It always surprises me to learn the number of varieties that exist from a species of plant, and lavender offers an assortment of over 400 varieties. All lavender plants look and smell wonderfully but not all are meant for use in the kitchen. Andrea of the Okanagan Lavender Farm says, "Any lavender from the species Lavandula angustifolia (the lavenders that are the first to bloom here), also sometimes called 'sweet lavenders can be used in cooking. Most of the lavenders you would not cook with are not winter hardy. If the plant has an unusual leaf (serrated or fern shaped) or an unusual flower (with 'wings' coming out of the top) it is generally not a culinary lavender. These are often called 'savoury lavenders'. If they have a lot of camphor in them as some do, do not use them...you can usually guess by their aroma. All flowers are not edible and some are extremely toxic. 


Imagine the sweet, buttery flavour of a shortbread cookie as it melts away in your mouth. Now, add to that the floral, fresh, spicy tang of lavender (think of a mild hybrid of sage and rosemary, with a subtle citrusy presence), blowing onto your palate like a spring breeze in Provence. It's a dazzling mix, and it's surprisingly easy to achieve at home.

Lavender lends itself to savoury dishes, from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Release the flavour by using an herb mill or mortar and pestle to break up dry lavender to release its aroma before using in as an ingredient in a recipe.  In The Lavender Garden, Robert Kourik suggests that lavender foliage can be substituted for rosemary in almost any dish. Both are members of the enormous mint family, and both have a powerfully aromatic flavor with resinous undertones. His recipes include one for lamb chops cooked over lavender sprigs and garlic and another for boneless chicken breasts laid on top of fresh lavender stalks and cooked on a cast iron griddle over an open fire. 




And then there are desserts. The flowers can be put in sugar and sealed tightly for a couple of weeks then the sugar can be substituted for ordinary sugar for a cake, buns or custards. Used in moderation, lavender blends well with lemon and other citrus flavors, making a lovely summery ice cream, and adds a floral aroma to baked goods such as shortbread and pound cake. Diminutive blooms add a mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets. Imagine white chocolate lavender cheesecake or lavender lemonade. Culinary Lavender is also used to make simple syrups which can be used on fruit or desserts as a light and refreshing addition. Andrea was in the process of making a second batch during my visit. Keep the lavender stems after removing the dried flower buds and use as a fragrant kabob stick, just slide fresh fruit on the stems. Flowers look beautiful and taste good too in a glass of champagne so let's celebrate the season with style!!!!

Are you drooling yet?  


Lavender has become a popular ingredient for cooking for both sweet and savoury dishes but a little goes a long way. Keep in mind that too much lavender, as with other herbs, can overpower a recipe. Use it sparingly. Start out using small amounts and experiment a bit until you find what amount works best for your taste and in a particular recipe. Meantime, consider it as a complimentary background flavour, similar to the use of vanilla. Andrea says, "Use pure lavender essential oil (we use Lavandula angustifolia, 'Maillette'). Because it is a concentrated essence of the plant you need so little - it adds surprising flavour, but not texture and none of the work of infusions which need to be strained." 

Wherever your culinary experiments take you, the real secret is to use lavender with the greatest restraint, particularly if you are substituting the dried flowers for fresh blooms: A good rule of thumb is to use half as much dried lavender as you would fresh. And if you buy lavender, be sure that it is culinary, unsprayed quality.

The fresher the flower, the more flavourful its taste, so pick your flowers as close as possible to food preparation time. Stem flowers may be put in a glass of water in a cool place until you are ready to use them. All blooms should be thoroughly rinsed. Immerse them in water to remove any insects or soil. Then lay the flowers gently on paper or cloth towels and dab dry, or gently spin dry in a salad spinner. If necessary, layer blooms carefully between moist paper towels in the refrigerator until meal time. 
One of the pleasures of having lavender in the summer garden is thinking up new ways to use it. Fresh lavender flowers are used to impart their unique flavour.  Our next technique uses the stems of the lavender. The sturdy, square stems of Lavender “Grosso,” for instance, make perfect skewers for an entree of grilled shrimp. These shrimp skewers get their hint of lavender flavour from the skewers themselves. 


Marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and garlic and briefly charred on your barbecue grill, the shrimp come to the table tasting of smoke, the salty tang of the ocean, with a mysterious hint of lavender. You could also substitute boneless chicken thighs or chunks of lamb for the shrimp. Andrea at the lavender farm also suggested a kebab of potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Why not skewer your fruit and barbecue it too? All will have a slight citrusy, peppery tone from the lavender.


**Lemony Shrimp and Garlic on Lavender Stems** 

1 pound large shrimp in their shells
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 sturdy stems of fresh or dried lavender, about 10 inches long (see note)

Devein the shrimp by cutting down the backs of their shells with a sharp paring knife. Rinse and pat dry. Do not remove the shells or the legs. 

 In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the shrimp, mix well and set aside to marinate. 

Soak the fresh or dried lavender stems in water for 5 minutes. Remove and pat dry.(not always necessary depending on the thickness of your stalks)

Thread the shrimp onto the lavender skewers and place them on your barbecue grill. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, turn and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the shrimp are opaque and the shells are just slightly charred. 

Serve each person a skewer of shrimp, along with 2 or 3 more shrimp that have been removed from the remaining lavender stems.  

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips

37 comments:

  1. That is such a beautiful and peaceful place! The pictures of the butterflies are gorgeous and your recipe sounds wonderfully summery as well as mouthwatering.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  2. Thanks for the beautiful tour..
    Do you still grow some lavender? Maybe 1 or 2?

    The recipe sounds great..
    I agreee a little goes a long way..but how delicate and gfragrant when done right!
    In Herbes De Provence..there is lavender in them..many don't know that..yet it is not overpowering..
    Well..gorgeous pics and thank you again:)

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  3. Lovely photos! Looks like it was a wonderful afternoon.

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  4. Interesting combination. Would love to try it. What a great afternoon, too.

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  5. Lavender season here is officially open! It's so short here, I can never get to the farm before they close for the season.

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  6. I'd swear the photos were taken in Provence. You live in such a beautiful area -- with such nice food enthusiast events.

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  7. Yum! I really must start doing more cooking with lavender!

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  8. Am I drooling yet? Of course. I love lavender and yours is so pretty. Whenever I think of lavender, I think of Provence where they have fields of it. We grow lavender in our herb garden and it's actually doing quite well this year, despite the heavy rain last month. Your shrimp sound divine Val. I've seen lots of posts on lavender recently. So much fun.
    Sam

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  9. Oh, how I wish I was able to bring home a large bundle of her lavender stems when we visited her farm a couple of years ago. This has taken me back to that day. The story of this farm was so profound and the French country feel in the Okanagan valley is such a reprieve. I wrote a post about being there and made lavender ice cream. I cannot believe I was just in Osooyos in the spring and didn't request a bundle of lavender stams to bring home. I will be at Mara lake in August, and will have to work to rectify that. YUM
    :)
    V

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  10. What a lovely place to spend the day! I could see me sitting in one of those chairs just taking it all in - sites, sounds, and smells. Can easily see how this visit inspired that delicious shrimp. What a fabulous idea to use the lavender stems as skewers. Love you pictures and thoroughly enjoyed this post!

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  11. Beautiful photos! I love lavender too. The shrimp recipe sounds fantastic.

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  12. oh Val I love lavender and love use to cook; beautiful pictures Val;)

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  13. One of my very favourite things to eat are fresh yeasted doughnuts tossed in lavender sugar. This looks like a wonderfully idyllic setting.

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  14. Gorgeous vistas, Val. Lovely photos of the monarch butterfly too. Never have visited a lavender farm, what a treat!

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  15. This is so inspiring. I felt transported. GREG

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  16. Wow, what a lovely place. It could have been some village in Provence, but with the water as an extra feature. How lucky you are to live near such beauty. The food all looks delicious too, and I'm going to try using some of my lavender stems for your recipe.

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  17. I love lavender, I visited a winery this week in Quebec and they had lavender as well. With these beautiful pics you really want me to go visit Val :)

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  18. You really know how to enjoy life, Val! Your blog is more like a Discovery Station for travel and food. We have a Monarch butterfly sanctuary where I work (Pacific Grove, CA) and I marvel at the clusters of them on the pine tree branches. So, I especially loved your shot of our mascot Monarch on lavender. It's on my bucket list to make a Lavender-Honey ice cream. It just sounds so good. The savory shrimp is a wonderful inspiration that you had.

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  19. What a lovely experience! Lavender is one of my favorite herbs and scents and I cook with it from time to time enjoying it with honey and peaches or nectarines. I can only imagine the beauty of those monarch butterflies being released. I think I'd have needed a tissue. Lovely piece, gorgeous location. Just wonderful.

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  20. What an amazing post, I can just smell the lavender! I actually have lavender growing in my yard, and the only thing I've done with it so far is make simple syrup --- but your post has inspired me to get creative, thanks Val!

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  21. Oh Val, this is BEAUTIFUL!! Absolutely gorgeous. I love lavender so much and this is such a delightful way to use it. :-)

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  22. What a great post! I've seen lots of recipes using lavender, but I've never been tempted to try it until I read your description of the flavour. Your photos are stunning, and the charity event sounds absolutely wonderful. What a lovely day.
    On a side note, when I was in about grade 3, we were assigned different areas of Canada to do a project on, and I got the Okanagan Valley. I decided I wanted to travel there someday, and although I haven't made it yet, it's still on my wish list!

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    1. I hope that someday you get to visit the Okanagan Valley Beth.

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  23. What an absolutely wonderful day. Thank you for sharing not only your day in photos but also the recipe.

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  24. Oh my, what glorious photos, and it sounds like a terrific event. I used to grow several varieties of lavender, and I so enjoyed walking past my "lavender grove." The bees adored it too! you could hear them buzzing from ten feet away! I particularly enjoy lavender honey, and as you noted, lavender shortbread is a delight.

    Thanks fro a lovely tour!

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  25. Oh dear! What a lovely post ... you always give us such wonderful information, ideas, photos, and inspiration! Lavender scented sugar coming right up! Mine is blossoming right now ...

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  26. Wow, you live in paradise!!!!!
    I will have a toast to you with a bellini ;D.
    thanks and have a great Summer Bella :D

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    1. I will have a bellini too, so far it has been a great summer:D I hope yours is perfect too my friend.

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  27. I have never been fond of the taste of lavender in food but I'm now a convert after a recent trip to Provence. You live in such a beautiful place, Val. I would love to see it someday.

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  28. Oh my gosh! Please send me some! I loooooooooooooove lavender. It's my favorite herb of all time. i've never seen such a beautiful patch/field like that. We have a neighbor whose sidewalk area is lined in them... and during my walk yesterday, I noticed they cut them down. I was on the floor at the sight. I meant to knock on their door and find out why. I love cooking with it, too... made a flan a few years ago that needs some updating :) Great post.

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    1. I am hoping that your neighbours cut them down for the second growth. This time of year if you cut them back to nothing you will have lavender again in September.

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  29. Val-
    what a great write up
    you really put your heart & soul into writing.
    i loved it.
    And I've also never heard of using lavender with seafood, but am very curious now.

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  30. How very lovely - the post, the photos and the recipe. Another winner, Val! Have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

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  31. Val, what a lovely post about a beautiful evening. I know because I was there with you:). Now I am going to cut and save some lavender stems to use in a cooking class that you, Laura and I will hold in my outdoor kitchen sometime. This year the valley has so many fun culinary offerings, I look forward to attending a few more together.

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  32. Oh, that was such a beautiful read and amazing visual, Val.
    The recipe sounds divine and is definitely going on my to-do list.
    Thanks so much for sharing. My day has started out better because of your post.

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  33. Lunch in the lavender - how lovely. I have 2 plants in my herb garden and just picked a big 'bouquet' for the kitchen. Love the recipe!

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  34. This is a great post, Val! The photos are beautiful. I've always loved lavender and have tried many times to grow it, but it never survives the winter here. What a great area to live in, lucky you! Have a great rest of the week!

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Welcome to my home. Thank you so much for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, daily encouragement and support.

Val

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