Why wouldn’t you grow lavender? Even if there’s no garden, a pot of lavender can cheer up a balcony or concrete yard no end (I know this from experience). And if good looks alone aren’t enough, what about all the other benefits of having lavender plants around the place –
First, and you might need no other reason, bees love lavender flowers. They’re full of nectar, and on a warm summer’s day a flowering lavender plant will be buzzing with activity. I plant Lavandula stoechas for early flowers, L. angustifolia for mid summer, and get a last flush of flowers in late summer from Lavandula x intermedia varieties.
And then there are the seeds. Very small black seeds that don’t look like much, but to goldfinches they are a gourmet feast – well I’m assuming they are from the number of birds that come to feed in the winter. I use this as an excuse for not being organised enough to get around to pruning all the lavender before autumn kicks in – cut off all the flower heads and there’ll be no seeds for the finches which would be no good at all. The pruning can always be finished in spring.
The scent is pretty good too. Having a few lavender bushes in the borders makes the chore of weeding (almost) bearable. Each time you brush past the lavender the air fills with its calming scent.
I can even make a case for growing lavender to use in the kitchen. Back in August I made some apricot jam using a recipe that Karen posted over at Lavender and Lovage. It’s a delicious, soft set jam – perfect spread on thick slices of toast for breakfast. Karen adds a sprig of lavender to the top of each jar of jam. Now, I was only brave enough to try this with one jar, fearing a revolt from the rest of the family who are just not sure that lavender should be allowed in the house for anything but bubble bath. The lavender infused jam had been sitting in the fridge for some weeks now, until I found a great way to use it – small pastries filled with a mixture of apricot jam and dark chocolate. The recipe for these pastries came from ‘Marcella says’, one of my most used cookbooks. I’ve changed the quantities slightly, but in essence the recipe is very close to the original.
These pastries are my contribution to the breakfast club run by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, and hosted this month by Anne at Anne’s kitchen. The theme is pastry, so while this combination of sweet pastry, jam and chocolate might not make for the healthiest breakfast ever, it may just qualify as the kind of breakfast you could justify at the weekend after a long week at work!
…And thanks to Karen for suggesting I also include this recipe in the Tea Time Treats blogging challenge. I haven’t joined in with this one before, it’s hosted on alternate months at What Kate Baked (the home for this month’s treats), and Lavender and Lovage. The theme is jams, chutneys, curds and preserves so I’m hoping this will fit right in!
Apricot & chocolate pastries
225g plain flour
pinch of salt
65g unsalted butter
1 ½ tsp baking powder
grated zest of ½ lemon
60 caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
5 tbsp apricot jam, preferably from a jar topped with a sprig of lavender!
2 tbsp grated dark chocolate
Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt and butter. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the baking powder, lemon zest, sugar and stir to mix everything evenly. Add the eggs, and using a spoon or your hands bring all the ingredients together to make a soft dough. Wrap the dough and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375oF, gas 5.
Roll the dough out on a floured board to about ½ cm thick and cut out 9cm diameter circles using a glass or cookie cutter. Mix the jam and grated chocolate together, then fill each circle with about 1tsp of the mixture. Wet the edges around half of each filled circle with a little water, then fold each one over to form a half circle and seal the edges. Place the pastries on a greased or lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack. The jam filling is very hot straight from the oven – you might need to leave them a while before putting the kettle on and enjoying a delicious sweet pastry with your cup of coffee.