Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring is in the Air: Lavender and Lemons

The first market vendor I met on my first day selling ipies (individual pies) at the Palo Alto Farmers' Market was Charlie.

In fact, he was my first customer!

He is always willing to lend me anything I forget or to find something that will steady a wobbly table.

One morning he even gave me those heat packets that you can put in your pockets to keep you warm on those early, cold December mornings at the market.

I'm not sure why he had those packets though -- Charlie almost always wore shorts and a polo shirt no matter the weather. If he did pull out a jacket, I knew I was in for a very cold day!

Charlie Opper and his wife, Linda Barrett, own Cache Creek Lavender, a small organic family run farm located in Rumsey, California in the Capay Valley. In 1997 they began growing lavender and now sell fresh lavender flowers and their own hand crafted lavender soaps, creams and bath salts. All organic. They sell their products on their website as well as at several farmers' markets. You can read a bit more about them on the Palo Alto Farmers' Market website.

One slow morning at the market, I noticed that Charlie also had culinary lavender -- dried flowers that are safe to use in both sweet and savory dishes.

I was excited to try my hand at baking with lavender since it wasn't an ingredient I had grown up baking with -- so of course Charlie handed me a bottle, refusing to take payment.

Well, that has been quite a few months ago now but with the winter weather slowly giving way to oranges and lemons on my trees and the plum tree in full blossom, I began to consider what springtime treat I might create.

As I considered the ingredients in my pantry, I spied the culinary lavender in its cork topped bottle.

With all the beautiful lemons now available, I started my search for a recipe that combined lemon-lavender. Springtime allergies must have plugged my brain as well as my nose because I spent quite a few hours searching for a recipe on various cooking websites but nothing struck me as quite right. I was surprised by how many recipes called for lemon extract instead of fresh lemon juice.

Finally I came to my senses and started combing through my rather large cookbook collection.

And of course, right where I should have looked first is where I found the perfect recipe, Deluxe Lemon-Lavender Mail-a-Cake, from Flo Braker's most recent cookbook, Baking for All Occasions.

Braker gave the cake this quirky name because she developed this recipe for her mother -- she wanted a sturdy cake that she could mail to her mother for her mother's birthday.

Braker even gives instructions for how to package the cake for mailing!

The cake uses both lemon zest and lemon juice so it had that extra zing that I wanted. And the recipe called for a tablespoon of lavender flowers. The finished cake had a lovely texture and a heavenly scent.

After the cake cooled, I drizzled a lemon glaze over the top then dusted it with powdered sugar. The wet glaze really helped the sugar to set. I topped it all off with a few sprinkles of lavender flowers.

The cake tasted great that night but the flavors improved even more by the next day. And of course, as its name indicates, this is a great cake to pack up for a picnic or even to serve at Easter or a springtime brunch.

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