I was driving along highway 31 on the way back from Charlevoix, where I went to forage morels from the first outdoor farm market there back in May (that’s the extent of my foraging prowess…). Thank heavens for the stretch of road where the all-consuming lake view was blocked by pine trees, because in that moment I noticed on the other side of the road, the land side to my right, a very small sign in the most beautiful shade of lavender.
It looked like a diminutive garage sale sign, but far too pretty for that. I made out the word ‘farm’ and this, along with the lavender color, unlocked for me the key to one of the most gorgeous spots Up North.
Our paradise here is studded with daily gems from the bay, the sky, the horizon. Drive inland not more than a few miles and there are still more gems, the rolling farmland, barn upon beautiful barn against a backdrop of awe-inspiring color no matter the season. I’ve known our berries, our apples, our dairies and wine, and our abundance even in our early warmth/late frost dearth years like last year.
But lavender? I had not seen lavender grown in these parts before. My culinary flower-loving soul practically swerved off of 31 and caused a lavender-gone-tragic situation, but then I thought better of exploring a field when the grass itself was barely up and green at that point.
Turns out the lavender blooms here this year in mid-July, just in time for a little family excursion (ladies only, no surprise) out to the farm last week. The lavender in these parts is no less stunning than that found in Provencal fields, here in our own rich soil on the 45th parallel where lavender thrives. The lavender growers at Lavender Hill Farms are thriving too, doing what lots of folks up here seem to by turning to a new chapter in their lives to make way for creative work that we all are the better for.
Cooking with flowers is a hot trend, one I’m thrilled about since floral flavors are such a special part of Lebanese cuisine. I love this book about cooking with flowers, and so does our local bookseller here in Harbor Springs, Between the Covers, which is featuring the book right now.
Culinary lavender is popping up all over the place lately, in everything from ice cream and jellies to lamb and pork rubs. For cooking and baking, use organically grown, non-sprayed sweet lavender, which is lavandula angustifolia (look for Hidcote, Mustead, and Rosea). Other varieties of lavender that have a wonderful scent are not good for cooking and impart an undesirable camphorous element.
Use culinary lavender fresh or dried, and think of using it in place of rosemary in your recipes. Lavender-infused sugar and simple syrups are a wonderful way to impart lavender fragrance and flavor to pastry, teas and cocktails, and ice cream. Like rose water, a little lavender goes a long way. Restraint on this is a good thing.
Up North lavender; Michigan lavender. Revel in the fragrant, storybook-vibrant fields, and revel in the kitchen too.