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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: Lavender - The Homecoming Queen of Herbs

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flickr user vanessa lollipop (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
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lavender

Some ingredients you can add to recipes with abandon. For example, in my experience, it seldom hurts to add a little more cream or butter, or a lot more chocolate chips, to whatever you’re making.

This is not always the case, and nowhere is it less so than when cooking with herbs, especially lavender. As the world-renowned culinary chemist, Harold McGee, notes, the aroma of lavender is more familiar in soaps and candles than in foods. So, if you’re not careful to judiciously add the right amount, that’s what your food will end up tasting like.

But it’s worth experimenting to achieve the right balance, because cooking with lavender, what the French call “blue gold,” can add elegance and sophistication to a dish and, with a little imagination, make you feel like you’re driving a convertible—top down, of course—through the south of France.

Even before people thought of putting it in food, lavender was casting its spell. It has been cultivated since the beginning of recorded time.

Some narratives claim that Adam and Eve took lavender with them when they left the Garden of Eden as a form of protection. (Fortunately for them they didn’t wear it. Unlike fig leaves, lavender bushes have spikes.)

Lavender was one of Cleopatra’s secret weapons for seduction. The Greeks and Romans employed lavender as a sort of precursor to Valium. The herb was used as an antiseptic in England, right up until the first World War.

Besides the many non-edible uses for lavender, it also shines when used in cooking. It even goes well with chocolate. The only thing you have to worry about it using too much.

The best way to avoid this problem is to infuse the herb into other ingredients, like cream, olive oil, or sugar, that will be added to a recipe rather than adding it directly to a dish.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll probably agree with one devotee who says that lavender is so attractive and pleasing it can well be regarded as the homecoming queen of herbs.

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Honey Lavender Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta, Italian for cooked cream, is a delicate, silky custard whose otherwise neutral flavor is a perfect showcase for lavender. This recipe is adapted from Faith Durand, editor of the cooking site The Kitchn.

1 and ½ teaspoons powdered, unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup cream
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons dried lavender buds
1 cup whole milk

Sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand for five minutes until softened. Combine cream and honey, add lavender, and heat until slightly simmering. Remove from heat and let steep for five minutes. Whisk mixture to make sure all ingredients are well incorporated, then strain. Whisk in softened gelatin to evenly distribute, then whisk in milk. Pour mixture into four 5-ounce ramekins which have been sprayed with cooking spray and refrigerate for four hours until set. Unmold and serve, garnished with strawberries or other fruit.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.