Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lavender Jelly

Back when we lived in New York, we once spent a weekend in New Jersey at the home of a friend's parents. The friend's mom grew lavender, dried it in little bunches, and used it to make sachets, many of which included a cross-stitched initial for the lucky recipient. I received a gorgeous "C" sachet when I gave my friend's mom a cookbook that we'd recently published. I dreamed of having a garden and the perfectly manicured lavender bushes I saw at their lovely house.

Several years later, I now have unperfectly manicured lavender bushes, and have yet to lovingly dry the lavender into thoughtful sachets for friends and acquaintances. Usually I hack the things down once or twice a summer and throw away what I cut. But this year I decided to try to do something useful with the cuttings. Having really gotten the jam bug this year, I tried my hand at lavender jelly.

Here's all you do. First, come about June, hack the heck out of your bushes. Here's half of what I cut. The other half, I'm ashamed to say, went into the compost. Next year I'll consider sachets...

With a little luck, you'll have a lovely and enthusiastic assistant helping:

Now separate the lavender into little bunches. It's a thrill to know that the buds look like bugs; I was desperately brushing buds off myself, thinking we had a kitchen infestation. But the terror is worth the end result:

You need to tie up the little bunches and let them dry, upside down, not touching each other, for about two weeks. They should also be out of direct sunlight. Our house is short on space, so the living room bookshelves were adorned. Here's some of the harvest in progress:

And here's a close-up of my improvisational tying. Thing is, lavender is so beautiful it stands up to knotted kitchen twine, baby hairbands, and old bread ties. Still, I'm not seeing the staff of Martha Stewart Living paying me a visit anytime soon:

The strings of lavender were secured with a collection of books I trash-picked from behind my college library more than 20 years ago. I have yet to crack one of these, so it's good to know they're getting some use:

In about two weeks, you're ready to remove the buds from the stems. I read lots of advice online advocating removing the buds by putting the bunches in a pillowcase, rolling them around, and removing both the stripped stems and the buds. I tried this method and found it cumbersome and messy. After trial and error, I found the best option was to roll the bunches between my fingers and thumb over a clean piece of paper, and then roll the paper and funnel the buds into a jar for storage.

Making the jelly is really very quick -- about an hour start to finish, including steeping the lavender. Outside of the lavender (which was free and organic), the recipe just requires some pectin, sugar, and lemon juice. The recipe I used is here, and it was so simple I didn't make changes. The recipe says you'll get about five half-pint jars; I got almost six.

I was so tickled with this jelly -- the fact that I could do something useful with what had essentially become a weed. I also absolutely love the taste. It's definitely lavender, but not remotely overpowering. Just soft and delicious. The first batch I made I handed out like a meth addict on the beach: Lavender Jelly for All! So I recently made another batch. I have enough dried lavender buds left for at least two more. I'm seeing some unusual teacher gifts for the holidays...

Happy canning!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might we be considered teachers? Being one of the recipients of the first batch, it has disappeared. Mom

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Quick Recipes said...

Looking amazing ! Keep posting stuff like this !

4:10 AM  
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