Originally published on June 30th, 2015 on UnusuallyDelicious.
It's early June here in Southern Ontario and my Dwarf Lilac has just begun to bloom. My entire yard smells so wonderful. While I'm transforming my yard, every time the wind blows I get the lovely scent of lilac. Who knew they were edible? Not me. Nor anyone I've talked about eating lilacs to. Some even questioned whether they were toxic. Well, here's the lowdown on what I've found about ingesting lilacs:
Firstly, they're part of the olive family, so that's a good sign. As with all things, start slowly. You may have an allergy you have no idea about, and since many of us do not ingest flowers on a regular basis, it's always best to start out small. The best things to make with lilacs are syrup, infused water, sugar and scones. I'll write a series on the fragrant lilac and give you the how-to on all of the above, along with uses for each (although the scones may be self explanatory).
Recently, thanks in part to my addiction to Pinterest, I have discovered the fascinating world of foraging. Don't get me wrong, you will not see me bent over at the side of the road picking dandelion, but I do have quite a bit in the way of diversity when it comes to the 'weeds' in my yard. I have purslane, stinging nettle, lambs quarters, plantain, and of course dandelions growing all around my property. That's only what I've noticed and been able to name while perusing pins, boards, and websites dedicated to eating weeds. I have spend years bent over, killing my back and my hands pulling them from the earth and cursing them profusely.
This year I decided I'm going to go about my garden a little differently. Aside from the total makeover I have started in my backyard (you can watch the progress on my blog at sonjarants.weebly.com), I have decided to try out some of the recipes online with these wild foods and maybe try to make a few of my own. Not only the weeds, either. Quite a few of the flowers I grow are also edible, apparently. So that is where we will begin our journey together, with a flower.
I've always loved growing things. Flowers, fruit and veggies growing in my home or in my garden bring me great joy. I don't exactly have the greenest of thumbs, I've likely killed more plants than I've nurtured through an entire life cycle, but I still try because I love it and truly, there is nothing that compares to walking outside in the morning and popping a cherry tomato into your mouth as you pick and choose which herbs and vegetables will be a part of your morning meal, or choosing which strawberries are the ripest for your clafoutis.
I also thoroughly enjoy cooking and baking (the process and end result, but not the cleanup!), and thought that it would be a great idea to start up a hub page dedicated to cooking and baking with things that grow in and around my home. I'll try to keep it interesting. Let's face it: you probably don't need another 'best ever marinara' recipe. So I'll try to show you the interesting side of my garden and kitchen. I love to experiment, and I'm really excited that you're along for the ride.
Since most of the recipes I found online which use lilac as an ingredient don't actually call for the flower itself, but lilac sugar, that is the very first thing I decided to make with it. I'll have to make a whole lot, and pick and dry a whole lot of lilac blossoms in a short period of time because they really don't last very long, and I'd like to take advantage of it while I can. So to start, I picked a bunch of lilac branches and brought them inside, sat my butt down in front of the TV and started picking. This is no quick task. After about an hour and a half, I'd only picked about 4 branches clean and had about a cup and a half of blossoms. I decided that was more than enough for my first 'test' batch, so I washed and strained them, then placed on a layer on some paper towels to dry overnight. The next morning, I split the pile in half, so I could test two different methods of making the lilac sugar. Almost all of the recipes for lilac sugar I found online were vague on how to use the blossoms, fresh or dry? So I decided to try both methods and see which one, if any, is better.
I ended up losing one half of the batch because I thought I'd speed up the drying process and stick half in the toaster oven to dry them further. It didn't work. They browned almost instantly and the smell was no longer pleasant. So I just used the fresh ones dried overnight and the result was underwhelming to say the least. The sugar absorbed liquid from the blossoms and smelled kinda weird.
However, I left the lid off for a couple of days and continued to shake, and the scent began to correct itself, as the sugar slowly dried. After two days, I ran it through a fine mesh strainer, not an easy task, I might add, but with the now brown flowers removed and the sugar drying out, I can smell the pleasant lilac fragrance coming through, and I can't wait to use this in my first recipe.
Take three. I picked a new batch of blossoms and this time removed as much of the green bits as possible, washed them, and placed on a tray lined with paper towels on top of the fridge to dry out for a few days. Aaaand... Success!
This can be used in recipes like cupcakes, frosting, and scones. I'll post recipes as I make them. You can also decorate some small mason jars with ribbon, fill with sugar and give as gifts. I thought of this as I was closing up the jars and will post pics when I make mine, as I am planning to give some as gifts this year for sure!
Unfortunately, I did not take any good pictures of my own lilac sugar (all the others are mine, and my dwarf lilac bush seems more pink than purple) before it was all dried out, so I found this one at honestcooking.com - click the link to go to their site - they have a recipe pretty much identical, but I think they used the blossoms fresh (I had better success with the dried ones). They do, however, have a link to a blueberry pie recipe which calls for lilac sugar which I will definitely try soon, so please do visit them.
Feel free to comment if you have any other great uses for lilac sugar or if you make yours differently.
Interested in foraging, cooking, baking, homesteading, or all things green? Follow me on Pinterest!
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