{ Author Archive - Sara Cation }

For the love of lavender

 

 

Lavender fields forever

 

 

There’s just something about a field of lavender you have to love.

Is it the intrinsic serenity of a sea of royal purple blooms, with rows upon row of long, thin planting beds undulating like waves? Is it the sweet perfumed aroma that magically mitigates anxiety and insomnia? Maybe it’s just the simple proof that a landscape can, indeed, look as magical as a painting by Monet.

 

Lavandin

 

To me, it’s a combination of all of the above. Whether it’s the colour or the aroma or the taste, I’m often infusing aspects of lavender in my day-to-day. Imagine my excitement, then, when a trip to France took me to the heart of lavender country for a lesson in cultivation history and the distillation process at Musée de la Lavande.

Just outside of Saint-Remèze a quaint town in the Ardèche department of south-central France, this lavender museum sits in a small stone building flanked by fields of lavender harvested for essential oils – three types of lavender, in fact: fine, the most fragrant, is used for the essential aromatherapy oil; aspic, also called spike, is more medicinal and works well as an antiseptic; and lavandin, a serendipitous hybrid of fine and aspic lavender brought to us by the bees, very easily grown and often used instead of fine lavender in essential oils.

 

I can smell the difference. Can you smell the difference?

 

In this Saint-Remèze museum, you’ll learn the history of harvest (from hand to sickle to machine) and essential oil production (how lavender + water in a copper distiller yields our favourite fragarance) through film, expert guides, hands-on demonstrations and interactive displays, but if just one museum leave you craving more, don’t worry! Just slightly southwest of the Musée de la Lavande lies relaxing the Routes de la Lavande, which both boast a sea of blue in a more-than-130-kilometre route – stop along the way for a breath of fresh (fragrant) air, for photo opps against that blue-purple backdrop and, of course, at museums, distilleries and shops for more information.

 

Dry lavender ready for distillation

 

Distillation contraption

The essential oils and lavender water are in the containers at the bottom

Lavender blooms from mid-June to early August, so time your tour accordingly. And, if your schedule permits, hit the Montélimar Lavender festival, Couleur Lavande, on the second weekend of July.

Lavender fields with the ancient palace and city Grignon in the background

Purples and blues and nature, oh my!

 

Feasting in France

France is for foodies – that just goes without saying. So when you visit a country where “gourmet” simply feels like the standard, and tour a countryside famed for its fresh local fare, you may gain a few pounds, but you’ll surely have eaten like a roi.

In France’s Rhône-Alpes region, the vegetation is verdant. From veggies to lavender to olives to grapes, the tradition of cultivation predates the founding of France itself, dating back to Roman times, so the mastery of these ingredients is all but built into the population’s DNA. And it’s evident in the food they prepare, which is served up like art on a plate.

View of the Ardèche Gorge

 

Eating my way from Ardèche to Drôme (considered the gateway to the South of France), I enjoyed food fresh from the ocean and from the land, often prepared at Michelin-star restaurants, but my all-time favourite meal in France was tucked in a tiny 18th-century farmhouse-turned-restaurant/guesthouse called Le Mas des Faïsses.

Le Mas des Faïsses courtyard

 

Using ingredients from their 18 surrounding hectares of gardens, terraces and orchards, Yvette the gardener and Robert the cook create seasonal, original recipes maximizing whatever’s in season, including even edible blooms like daylilies.

 

Chef Robert telling us about the ingredients

 

Yvette the gardener is a bit shy

A floral centerpiece that turned out to be a garden-fresh salad, a pudding of pureed fresh veggies, and a selection of young goat cheese (from local goats) were just some of the stages in this five-course luncheon…

Centrepiece or salad?

Salad! (That's me eating, not smelling)

 

…but most memorable was the beet pancake of the main course. Delicious-looking, no? I had been thinking about it pretty regularly since I returned from France and finally thought to try my luck at obtaining the recipe to share with our gardening readers. And since, in this part of France, they’re as generous as they are gourmet, Robert sent us his recipe and let us all in on the secret to the alchemy of his famous fresh fare.

 

Main-course magnificence

Beet Steaks

500g grated beet
1 sliced onion
1 egg
110g flour
1 tablespoon tamari sauce
1 teaspoon of Provençal herbs

Mix all ingredients
Pre-cook the steaks in a blini pan
Put aside in an oven-safe tin to use immediately or wrap in plastic film to refrigerate or freeze for further consumption.
Cook in oven at 250F for approx 30 minutes.
Serve with salad and roasted potatoes, fresh pasta or green beans.