26 August 2009

A Little Peach Pie


The last time I was at the market you could still find Maryhill peaches on display in a lush pyramid. Every time I stop by and find them there I am thankful. I gently hold one, smell it and know there is at least one more chance to bask in the perfection of this sumptuous summer fruit.

Often I will eat one perfectly ripe peach plain, for lunch, indulging in its rich flavor as the juice drips and threatens to trickle down my hand. Sometimes I carefully slice it and serve it with a Chocolate Chip Meringue cookie and some whipped cream. Last week, though, I brought home several large beautifully ripe peaches and, before I could get them arranged on my counter top, I managed to somehow sadly bruise them. In an effort to save what I could I carefully trimmed away the darkened flesh and sliced them. There were too many slices to eat fresh. I wondered what I should do to keep from letting them go to waste. It was then that I decided to make a little Peach Pie.

I am a girl from the south and I do dearly love peaches but, sad to say, I had never before made a Peach Pie. I'm not even sure I'd ever eaten one. If you find yourself in the same situation, don't wait another day. Find some ripe peaches. Slice them and gently toss with a little flour, sugar and cinnamon. Arrange them in a crust. Top them with a little streusel and bake. Believe me, you will be glad you did.




Streusel Topped Peach Pie

Pastry for a one crust pie (You can use the recipe for Nearly Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a ready made pie crust.)

Streusel Topping

2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons toasted pecan or almond pieces
2 Tablespoons butter

Pie Filling

2-3 cups sliced peaches
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Fit the pastry into an 8-inch pie dish leaving an unfinished edge of 1 to 1½ inches of dough at the rim. Set aside.

Make the streusel topping: Place 2 Tablespoons each of flour, brown sugar, toasted nut pieces and butter in a small bowl. Mash together with a fork until crumbly. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Make the pie filling: Slice the peaches and toss with the lemon juice.

In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Sprinkle the mixture over the sliced peaches and stir to combine.

Assemble the pie: Pour the peach mixture into the prepared crust. Fold the unfinished edge loosely over the filling. Sprinkle the crust edge with coarse sugar if desired. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the pie filling.

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for approximately 35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Enjoy!

21 August 2009

The Chocolate Train in Montreux


When you think Swiss what is the first thing you think of? Could it be chocolate? Or maybe it’s cheese? Or maybe mountains and railroads? Bring them all together into an excursion on a first class Pullman car and you have the Chocolate Train.


Leaving from the station in Montreux from June through October this train will take you on a scenic tour to both Gruyères, a wonderful castle town famous for it’s distinctly flavorful cheese, and Broc, the home of the Cailler chocolate factory famous for it’s delicious Swiss Chocolate. As Lausanne is only a short train ride from Montreux I set aside a day of last summer's vacation for this Swiss adventure and reserved a seat on the Pullman car in advance. I don't know what took me so long to write about it but looking through photos on a gray summer morning I am still enchanted with the experience.

On a Wednesday morning I showed up in Montreux bright and early. The transfer was simple. The GoldenPass Scenic trains leave from platform 6 at the Montreaux station. The Chocolate Train was at the platform and loading when I arrived.


I boarded and settled into my comfortably upholstered seat. A train attendant came by, checked my ticket and asked my first language. Soon we were on our way and the train began to climb through the scenic vineyards above Lake Geneva.


After a relatively steep ascent offering lovely views of the lake and the mountains beyond, the train began to wind its way through the mountains toward the town of Gruyères.


On the way we were served a breakfast of coffee or hot chocolate, a chocolate filled Croissant and a sample of Cailler chocolate miniatures. It was a pleasant breakfast and a taste of what was to come.


In Gruyères the train stopped at La Maison du Gruyère beside a field of docile black and white cows gently clanging their Swiss cowbells in a musical way as they grazed.


We made our way past the cows, into the cheese factory and up the stairs where an exhibition was laid out. There an audio guide explained how cheese is made, from the cows peacefully grazing on mountainside meadows to the factory process we were able to view through plexiglass.

I found the tour surprisingly informative. I liked the way it engaged the senses of sight, smell and hearing in a simple presentation that was interesting and memorable. I especially enjoyed the tubes that allowed you to smell the aromas from the high pastures where the cows grazed. It encouraged experiencing the distinct organic notes that are transformed by cow and factory into the complex flavour of the finished cheese.


After the factory tour we were taken by bus up the mountain to the picturesque castle town of Gruyères. As our bus unloaded and we entered this beautiful town I was enchanted. While I will admit it seemed a bit touristy the town was also sparkling and beautiful. There, the one street within the town walls was lined with restaurants eager to accommodate those among us who wanted to taste the local products. Tables spilled out of the restaurants onto the cobbled walkways and the scent of cheese permeated the air.


As I walked by restaurant after restaurant and tourist shop on my way to the castle I did see the occasional local citizen ignoring the crowd and going about their business in these pleasant surroundings. In the midday light this town was a symphony of sunshine, cobblestones and beautiful doors.


I didn’t expect a lot from the castle in Gruyères. It wasn't all that highly recommended in my guidebooks. Still, I love castles and while I was in such close proximity to one I had no problem choosing to forgo lunch in favor of seeing the castle for myself. I thought the tour was likely to be short and I would get it out of the way early and find some time to loiter in the town before the bus came back to get us.


To my surprise the Château de Gruyères turned out to be fabulous! Reluctantly I skipped the recommended movie portraying the history of the castle and instead set out to wander the ramparts.


There were ramparts around the gardens with views of the mountains. There were paths to wander through the formal gardens and a courtyard that led to an exhibit of medieval music and instrument making as well as a self guided tour of the well-appointed castle. From the windows in the gorgeously decorated rooms were views of the beautiful lush countryside in all directions. There were also legends and history, deep window seats, a huge banquet table, significant paintings, tales of the life of the privileged and even a severed hand. Interesting and exciting stuff in my book.

I finished my tour just a short time before the bus was due and hurried down the hill to take a look at the church. Then I walked to the entrance to the town past café after café where tourists were finishing their lunch. The smell of Swiss cheese permeated the air from the traditional fare of Rösti, Fondue and Raclette which were prominent on the menus posted by the doorways. I grabbed a quick ice cream bar and a drink to take the edge off my sacrifice of lunch and found a place in the shade to enjoy it while waiting for the bus to arrive and take us back to the train.


Our next stop on the Chocolate Train was Broc. Broc is famous for its Cailler chocolate factory. It is now owned by Nestlé but maintains its original brand name to highlight the distinctive quality of its chocolate making process. Cailler, we were told on our tour, makes milk chocolate using milk from local sources that is condensed in a special way rather than using dried milk powder as most other manufacturers do.

During the tour our guide offered lots of interesting information rather quickly but we saw very little of the chocolate making process. We were taken through a dimly lit room housing large quantities of cacao beans where our guide explained that these beans are very bitter and invited us to try one.


Then she explained that Cacao is grown in South America and Africa. While South American beans tend to offer more subtlety of flavor, African beans are generally used in making milk chocolate because of the greater consistency in their taste. Since I had recently read about the production of artisanal chocolate in Stef’s fabulous interview with Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate, I had some background information on chocolate production and found this short talk very interesting.

Next we entered an interactive room where videos could be run to answer questions about chocolate making. I soon grew tired of the dark room and moved on to the highlight of the tour – the tasting room!


In the tasting room were samples of all of Cailler’s chocolate products carefully arranged on mirrored trays and placed on counters displaying packaged Cailler products. The tour included unlimited samples. The only rule was that all samples chosen had to be consumed in the room and could not be carried out.

I gravitated toward the dark chocolate samples, especially those of Cailler’s ambassadors noir. They were delicious but, I must confess, I only managed to eat three or four pieces before I had to move on. The smell of chocolate was intense enough to satisfy the senses with scarcely a bite taken.

Beyond the tasting room were displays of old chocolate making equipment, conchers, an antique evaporation tank and others. There was also a theater showing a movie that featured the factory process and a shop to purchase what were promised to be factory fresh Cailler products. I bought my share to bring home as souvenirs and walked back to the train station for our scenic ride home.

19 August 2009

Amaretto Cupcakes with Cherry Cream


Ages ago I got a care package from the folks at Stonyfield Farm. They make Oikos Organic Greek yogurt, a fabulously thick and, better yet, natural dairy product that contains no fat and twice the protein of regular yogurt. I was excited about the quality of the product but I have to admit I don't eat a lot of yogurt, at least not straight from the carton. I wondered if I could do this product justice in my kitchen. Still I was curious so I accepted the care package as a personal challenge.

The thing that intrigued me most was the suggestion that their thick creamy Greek style yogurt could be used as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in many recipes. Since I am not a huge fan of sour cream either, especially because of the high fat content, I wanted to try using the Greek style yogurt as a substitue in some recipes. I was also excited about the potential to add calcium and richness to cake recipes without adding more fat.

The results have been delightful. I added Oikos organic yogurt to my recipe for Blueberry White Chocolate Bars earlier this summer and was quite pleased with the texture of the cake layer that resulted. I have also tried it in a wonderfully unusual cheesecake I have yet to post about, with good results. Then I tried it in these cute little summery fruit topped cupcakes where I added it to both the cake. to add texture and for a calcium boost, and to the topping. as a sour cream substitute. They turned out great on both counts.

So thanks Stonyfield, for a wonderful new addition to the dairy aisle! I think Oikos will become a frequent item on my grocery shopping list.


Amaretto Cupcakes with Cherry Cream

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs
5 oz container Greek yogurt (Oikos plain yogurt)
1/4 cup amaretto
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 Tablespoon sugar (use brown sugar or vanilla sugar if you like)
1/2 cup plain Greek style yogurt
1 cup cherries, pitted and quartered (or try other stone fruit or berries)
2 teaspoons sugar (use vanilla sugar if you like)

12 whole cherries for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 cupcake tins with cupcake papers.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large mixing bowl beat together the eggs, butter, yogurt and liqueur. Add the sugar and continue beating until well combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Spoon the batter evenly into the cupcake papers. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes, or until cakes begin to brown and test done. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.


Sprinkle 2 teaspoons sugar over the fruit in a small bowl. Stir and set aside for 20 minutes or so to macerate.

Whip the cream with 1 Tablespoon sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in the yogurt and the fruit.

Cut a cone shaped wedge of cake from the top of the cooled cupcakes. Fill the crater with the cherry whipped cream, piling the cream mixture on top. Garnish with a whole cherry if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

17 August 2009

Spicy Sweet Cherries - Two Ways


I adore the flavor of fresh sweet cherries. When cherries are in season I keep a bowlful in my kitchen just to snack on. Or, sometimes, I pit them, sprinkle them with sugar and a little liquid, maybe lemonade or wine or kirsch, let them sit for an hour or so and then drop them into summer drinks or serve them for dessert with whipped cream on top. For the most part I tend to keep my summer fruit recipes pretty simple.

Other times though, I start thinking, and then you just never know what might happen. One idea started brewing with the gooseberries I found at the Farmer’s Market last month. I added some onion and made a savory sauce from those. Then I made Cantaloupe Salsa and started thinking about the intrigue of adding hot peppers to lusciously sweet summer fruit.

Then, thumbing through the August issue of "Martha Stewart Living," I saw a recipe for a beautiful Plum and Port Crostata. It looked and sounded quite delicious and it included a Thai chile in the recipe.

The next thing I knew I was taking my kirsch and sugar laced cherries in a whole new direction. The result was both an irresistable spicy sweet barbecue sauce and a luscious crostata with the slightest lingering spicy blush. I was happy with the results and I will probably make them both again but I was most impressed with the sauce.


Spicy Sweet Cherry Sauce

2 pounds cherries, rinsed and pitted
1 jalapeno, split in half and seeded
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons kirsch
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Combine the cherries, jalapeno, sugar, kirsch, water, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook covered for 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat. Carefully remove the jalapeno halves and set aside. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.

If you would like to make a Hot Cherry Crostata - remove 2 cups of the cherry mixture and set aside.

Place the remainder of the cherry mixture, along with one or both halves (depending on your preference) of the jalapeno, in a blender. Blend on high until mixture is pureed. Serve over chicken or pulled pork like a barbecue sauce, on sandwiches or over rice.



Hot Cherry Crostata

2 cups Spicy Sweet Cherry Sauce
pastry for a one-crust pie
a little cream
coarse sugar sprinkles

Prepare enough pastry for a one-crust pie. (You can use the recipe for Nearly Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a ready made piecrust.)

Fit the pastry into an 8-inch pie dish leaving an unfinished edge of 1 to 1½ inches of dough at the rim.


Pour the reserved 2 cups of the cherry mixture into the pie pastry. Fold the unfinished edge loosely over the filling. Brush the edge with cream and dust it with coarse sugar sprinkles.

Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for approximately 35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Serve and Enjoy!

15 August 2009

Etcetera


Don't you love to look through old vacation photos on a quiet evening at home? It's fun to remember the sunshine, the delicious meals and the wonderful times we had with family and friends. Over the years though, my photos have changed in some significant ways. For example, here's a collage from our Spring Break road trip to California.


And then I found this one that I took last Spring at Etcetera Coffeehouse in Paducah, Ky.

I do take it as good advice...

13 August 2009

Lemon Meringue Pie


Out the Door

This summer my daughter is learning to cook. Just the thought of it makes me smile! Ever since she was little I have dreamed of spending time with her in the kitchen. I have wanted to pass on the things I have learned and share with her the special kitchen stories I treasure.

Nonetheless, aside from one or two brief periods of interest, the dream that my daughter would join me in the kitchen as she was growing up followed many illusions I once had about raising children - right out the door! My daughter had her own ideas about food as she had her own ideas about many things. So I tried to employ patience as she followed her own sense of timing.

Now that she has left home and is living alone she has discovered an interest in cooking. She is learning to feed herself on a budget and how to entertain friends on her own terms. Suddenly the seeds planted as she was growing up have sprouted. Now she has stepped into her own kitchen and is courageously trying new things. In the process she is enjoying the fruit of her labor.

Discovering a Favorite

She is also expressing appreciation for my cooking when we are able to spend time together. She is eager to know about whatever I am working on in the kitchen. She has taken a special interest in the pies I have been making this summer. She has been home to taste some fruit tarts, Rhubarb Cream Pie and a number of different pies with meringue toppings. She tries them all, smiles and asks questions. The one that stood out as her favorite was my latest version of Lemon Meringue Pie.

Since then, whenever I see her, she askes if we can make a Lemon Meringue Pie together. This weekend we are going to do it. I will show her how to seal the edges of the meringue to the fluted crust and remind her that the meringue needs to go over the lemon filling while the filling is still warm. Along the way I'm sure I will slip in a few stories about her Great Aunt Hen and the way I helped her cook when I was just a girl.

Uncovering Treasures

Talk about a teachable moment. But then again I've pretty much given up on the illusion that I can instruct. What I hope for is to encourage my daughter's process of discovery. The kitchen is so full of treasures to be uncovered. There is the confidence she will find as she learns how to use kitchen tools and techniques with skill and efficiency. There are recipes to share and then experiment with as she discerns her own tastes and nutritional concerns. There is history to discover in the origin of recipes, the journey that brings them into her kitchen and the way she can use them to nourish friends and family. And then, there is the opportunity to spend time with others sharing kitchen tasks and taking pleasure in the many ways in which we can work together and get to know each other better. It has taken a while for us to get here but, like her mother, my daughter is discovering the art of cooking in her "own sweet thyme."

The Pie

There are many variations on the filling for a Lemon Meringue Pie. I made one version last year as I struggled with pie crusts and ended up making an Upside Down Lemon Meringue Pie. I liked the consistency of that filling but found that the flavor was a little too sweet for my taste. Here I have adapted it to dwell more on the fresh tartness of the lemon. The result is a fantastic filling, bright and tangy, a perfect contrast to the soft, sweet cloud of meringue on top.


Lemon Meringue Pie

Line a 9 inch pie plate with pastry for a single crust pie, using the recipe for (Nearly) Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a prepared pie crust of your choice.

Prebake the pie crust - first prick it all over, bottom and sides, with a fork, then place it in a preheated oven at 475 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Remove the pie shell from the oven and allow it to cool.

Prepare the pie filling.

Lemon Pie Filling
(adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Step-By-Step Cookbook”)

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
dash of salt
1½ cups water
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
½ cup lemon juice

Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt in a medium saucepan, stirring well so that ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add water gradually stirring until all ingredients are well mixed.

Cook mixture over medium high heat until thick and bubbling across the entire surface, stirring constantly, then cook and stir for another 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks. Gradually pour 1 cup of the cooked mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Immediately pour the yolk mixture back into the cooked mixture remaining in the saucepan and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly.

Add butter and gradually stir in lemon juice until well combined.

Turn filling into prepared pie shell.

Top the warm filling with Meringue That Won't Weep.

Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees or until the top of the meringue is a golden color.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Note: This pie is best served several hours after cooking, when the filling has had time to cool and set but before putting it in the refrigerator. In fact the pie tastes delicious served warm, but while it is still warm the filling will run.


Lemon Meringue Nests
based on a recipe found in the 5/9/06 issue Women's Day Magazine

I saw this recipe and immediately tore it out and put it in my recipe file. It uses Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells, Royal Lemon Pie Filling Mix, and a meringue topping. Simple, no?

The little tarts were so cute I was eager to try them but I looked a long time before I was able to find a box of Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry shells. When I finally did, I made the tarts using the recipe for Lemon Pie Filling that is described above.

To make them I baked the pastry shells according to package directions, scooping out the center as described there. Then I made the Lemon Pie Filling and scooped it into the shells and topped them with Meringue That Won't Weep.

They were good, and quite attractive. Still, in my humble opinion, a slice of Lemon Meringue Pie in a home made pastry crust cannot be beat. Even so, it is nice to have an arsenal of alternatives to turn to as the need arises. I am not above using a frozen pie shell when it is more convenient and these puff pastry shells make another nice variation for individual servings and an elegant presentation.

Serve and enjoy!

10 August 2009

Meringue That Won't Weep


Flavors of Summer

The long spell of hot weather that was hovering over the Pacific Northwest has broken now. The skies are bright and brushed with wispy clouds and the morning air feels cool against my skin. That cooler air beckons me back into the kitchen. Still the heat is simmering in my mind, especially as I stir my kitchen memories on a quiet Monday morning.

When I was a child something was always happening in the kitchen, no matter the ambient temperature. Even on the hottest of summer days there was food to prepare and people to be fed. We all know that to make a cake you have to break a few eggs and, of course, that's true not only of cakes but almost everything that people like to eat and think of fondly as they contemplate the flavors of summer. Fried chicken takes a skillet of hot grease to transform it into crisp tender mouthfuls of southern perfection. Corn on the cob takes a kettle of boiling water to bring out it’s bright color and juicy sweetness just as pasta or potatoes for a summer salad must take their turn on the stove top.

Even the fluffy lightness of many a dreamy summer dessert that comes to mind as "cool" or "tart" spends some time in a hot oven. Think of Baked Alaska, or the mountains of foam piled invitingly high on top of a Lemon Meringue Pie. Even such refreshing desserts must be baked to set those golden peaks. The alchemy of the kitchen is almost always hot work! To delight and nourish family and friends, someone has to do it. When I was a girl that someone was my Aunt Hen.




Kitchen Alchemy

Of course there are dishes that can both feed a family and avoid the heat. These days if you can't stand the heat there is no shame in getting out of the kitchen but when I was a girl such options were fewer. Produce from the garden needed to be cooked or preserved. Having grown up on a farm during the depression, and ever thankful for its abundant fresh produce, my aunt was reluctant to let food go to waste. Besides take-out and deli selections were pricier than home cooked, and harder to come by, and relying on what are now common alternatives to cooking an evening meal were then thought to reflect a lazy character or a lack of thrift. I think my aunt considered them beneath her dignity for much of her life. My uncle worked hard and when he was alive my aunt saw it as her responsibility to feed him well with hot home cooked meals, regardless of the season. She took pride in her skills in the kitchen and the pleasure others took in the food she prepared.

Later in life she had my brother, my dad and I to feed and she still took her role as the family cook seriously. Even after my brother and I moved away from home, summer visits to Aunt Hen's house would often find her standing in her fragrant, steamy kitchen stirring something over a hot stove, sweat rising on her brow as a box fan at the periphery of the room blew a scant breeze her way.

On one such morning she offered to make a pie for me to take to my grandfather’s house later that day. As she cooked she carefully showed me how she made a meringue topped pie. We cooked the filling and smoothed it into the waiting pie shell. Then we beat the egg whites until frothy and followed one of her favorite recipes to create an impressive meringue that she confidently told me, "Would Not Weep!"



Avoiding Tears

I guess I never took the problem of weeping meringue seriously back then. I wasn’t much of a pie eater really and I didn’t think too hard about what made a pie perfect or what caused it to be a disaster. Apparently though, weeping meringue is an age-old problem and a real challenge to some bakers, especially when it is humid, and there are few places more humid than my aunt’s house, near the banks of the Ohio River, on a summer's day. No one likes a damp sticky layer between pie filling and topping, and no one likes sticky beads forming on top of a pie, especially when they are the one who has cut in the butter, rolled out the crust, stood over the filling as it cooks, or whipped the meringue to stiff peaks.

My aunt had an answer for that, a tip she loved to share well into her eighties and even after she had moved to a nursing home. Even then she would call me and direct me to her cookbooks asking me to look up the recipe she treasured and eagerly wanted to share with her new friends. With a smile, and my heart melting in my chest, I would lovingly open her old cookbook and read her carefully handwritten recipe to her over the phone:



Meringue That Won’t Weep
From page 13 of Aunt Hen’s “Favorite Recipes” (the blue volume)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons sugar
½ cup water

3 egg whites (preferably at room temperature)
6 Tablespoons sugar

Place cornstarch, sugar and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium low heat until clear. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until foamy and beginning to peak. Add cooled cornstarch mixture.

Continue beating the egg whites while gradually adding 6 Tablespoons of sugar. Beat until very creamy.

Pile meringue on pie spreading it to touch the edge of the crust all around.

Bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees, or until the top is kissed with a golden brown color.

Serve with confidence and enjoy!

06 August 2009

Lavender Wands


The Scent of Lavender

Don't you love the scent of lavender? I do! Years ago I had lavender plants all over my yard. I would carefully cut the flower stems and bring them in to dry. When they were dry I would separate the stems and the blossoms and set the blossoms around the house in bowls or small sachet bags to brighten the cloudy gray seasons with the scent of my summer garden.

Then one day, as I was shopping at an outdoor market in Eugene, OR, I saw fragrant ribbon tied lavender wands for sale. Wow! A smile caught the corners of my mouth and a certain childlike way of viewing the world came over me as I admired the beauty of this natural craft. I bought one to remind myself to try this at home. Aside from the fairy tale quality of ribbon tied wands it occurred to me that this was a pretty and practical way to preserve the fragrance of lavender without going through the sometimes messy process of drying and stripping the lavender blossoms from the stems.

Thyme Passes

Years have passed now. My lavender plants are gone. I have a few small new ones I planted this year and last, as I have begun to remember how I love lavender, but they aren't very big yet. To get a real taste of the beauty of lavender I have to look elsewhere these days. While shopping at the Camas Farmers' Market I found lavender products for sale along with large bunches of freshly cut lavender from Lacamas Lavender Farm. Once again I felt inspired to make lavender wands so I bought a bunch of lavender and took it home.

At home I looked up some directions on the Internet. There I found that to make wands it is essential that the lavender you use be fresh. It should have been picked within the last 24 hours and even then the fresher the better so that stalks remain supple. I was told that my lavender had been harvested the night before so I gathered various instructions and my ribbon and settled onto the back deck with the lavender, not wanting to waste any time.

Making Lavender Wands

I found that you can make lavender wands, or lavender favours, most any size. Some prefer to make slim ones by starting with fewer stems and staggering the height of the flower head. Some make more rounded wands with more stems. I read recommendations varying from seven to about thirty. The important thing is to start with an odd number of pieces, or an odd number times two. Then choose a piece of ribbon, 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide, depending on the look you prefer, and several yards long. Tie it tightly around the lavender stems just below the lowest flower head, with one end of the ribbon about 12 inches long and the other, preferably, on the spool trailing on the other side of the knot.


When the knot has been secured hold the bundle with the stems pointing up, flowers pointing down, and bend the stems, carefully, down around the flower heads, evenly distributing the stems all the way around. This will create a frame.


Gather the stems around the flowers like a cage. Pull the short end of the ribbon down through the flower heads in the middle of the cage and grasp stems and ribbon just below the flowers. Now take the long end of the ribbon and pull it to the outside of the cage at the top, close to the knot you tied. Begin weaving the ribbon in and out of the lavender stems. If you chose an odd number of stems, weave the ribbon in a pattern of over one, then under one stem. If you chose an odd number times two, pair up the stems and weave the ribbon over two, then under two stems. Each pair of stems should continue to work as one as you weave the ribbon around the lavender wand.

1/4 inch ribbon with one up one down weaving

3/8 inch ribbon with two up two down weaving


Push the ribbon together as snugly as desired, keeping it as even as possible while you weave. When the ribbon is woven to the bottom of the lavender flowers pull the short end of the ribbon through the stems to the outside and tie it with the long end of the ribbon into a tight bow. Add another length of ribbon to wrap the stems if desired.


Lavender wands make pretty sachets. Slip them into a drawer to keep the contents smelling fresh, arrange them in a vase, or hang them from a robe hook or hanger in your closet. These pretty wands make great gifts or package decorations too.

04 August 2009

Lavender Lemonade


On a hot summer's day there is nothing as refreshing as a cold glass of lemonade. It isn't just the drink itself that promises to quench our thirst. The bright color and tart aroma, delight our senses. The clink of the ice in the glass promises our ear that we will be refreshed. The cool damp of the sweating glass is invigorating.

A glass of lemonade made from fresh squeezed lemons is one of summer's simple pleasures. I recommend it highly! If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, or just want to try something new, how about adding an infusion of lavender to this refreshing summer pleaser?

Lavender is plentiful this time of year. It's color and fragrance are charming. Yet cooking with it still seems to be a novelty to most folks. In fact, in my view, it is the surprise of the lavender that makes this drink particularly inviting. Not only is the taste somewhat unusual and quite refreshing but the lavender adds an enchanting spark of color to an otherwise ordinary lemonade. At first, as you prepare the lavender infusion, it is pale and unimpressive but, when you add the lemon juice and stir, the color that blooms is delightful.

Make sure the lavender you use is a culinary variety and that it has not been sprayed with any harmful chemicals. I bought Hidcote lavender, which has a nice flavor and is particularly recommended for imparting color to an infusion, from Lacamas Lavender Farm at the Camas Farmers' Market. If the lavender you are buying is not clearly marked ask questions. Vendors are usually more than happy to share their knowledge and advice.


Lavender Lemonade

1 cup sugar
5 cups water, divided
1/4 cup fresh, or 1 tablespoon dried, lavender blooms stripped from stems
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
Ice cubes
Lavender sprigs and lemon slices for garnish

Place the sugar and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Add the lavender, cover, and remove from heat. Let the mixture stand for at least 20 minutes and up to several hours.

Strain the mixture discarding the lavender blossoms. Pour it into a glass pitcher. Add the lemon juice and another 2 1/2 cups of water. Stir well and serve in pretty glasses over ice.

Relax and enjoy!