Nothing says spring quite like lilacs in bloom. For seven years, I enjoyed the lilac perfumed air that our single bush provided and now we have an entire hedge. I enjoy them so much in the yard, I have always been hesitant to cut them so it is perhaps a little odd that we have spent two days harvesting the delightful little flowers.
Except that I’m dying to plant something. . . anything. . . in my garden. We have so many plans for our little acreage but only so much money and time. Patience is proving my great test as I look at my untilled garden and wait.
And that’s when I discovered lilacs are not only beautiful and aromatic, they are edible. We went out for a sample. “Blech,” was the unanimous opinion. I think the children were expecting the sweetness of honeysuckle nectar. Instead, it was bitter. Reminding them of the sweetness of lemonade after the sugar was added, however, sent them scrambling for paper bags for the harvest.
After my initial hesitation to pick them passed, I found harvesting the tiny lilac flowers quite enjoyable. No matter how tall or short you are, there are flowers at eye level. No stretching or bending required. Pulling off all the green parts to discard proved a little tedious, but standing in the midst of that aroma made it more than worthwhile. Even the baby enjoyed pulling off handfuls and his little spot in the grass soon turned light purple with the shower of buds. Working alongside the fluttering of the butterflies and the buzzing of the bumblebees while the chickens occasionally peeked out of the hedge to see what we were up to proved rather enjoyable.
I began thinking what a lovely spring tradition this could become as I went inside with the first batch to start some lilac muffins. Heavenly, from start to finish. I always enjoy cooking with new ingredients, but the beauty of the blossoms when my four year old dumped them into the batter surprised me. We took a small taste and were pleasantly surprised. I don’t know how to describe the flavor, exactly, except that it is one of those subtle flavors. You know something is there but you can’t quite identify it, making the muffin interesting as well as flavorful.
I was surprised that the flowers turned brown while cooking, and that they turned the muffins a deep yellow, almost like saffron. Again, the flavor was subtle but intriguing. The children scarfed them down and decided this was definitely worth the work. They grabbed the MP3 player and spent the rest of the afternoon gathering lilac buds.
L.E.Fant and I made lilac sugar. I started making plans for a lilac tea when the sugar finishes in a couple weeks. Then I started the piece de resistance, the lilac jelly.
4 cups lilac blossoms, green parts removed
4 cups boiling water
8 tablespoons lemon juice
2 packages powdered pectin
8 cups sugar
Rinse lilacs and place in a large glass or stainless steal container. Cover with boiling water, cover with a lid and let sit for 24 hours. This will make a nice lilac infusion which smells nice but doesn’t look anything like you would expect. It is murky and either greenish or brownish.
Strain the lilacs, squeezing out the excess water, and discard. Add lemon juice to the infusion, stir in pectin and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
Add the sugar all at once and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute, skim and pour into jelly jars.
Process like you would any other jelly. Here’s a great tutorial from Owlhaven.
Mom’s homemade lilac jelly scored rave reviews with the children. They all wanted seconds, Bear said it was 300 times better than any store bought jelly and Mouse said it was definitely worth the work of picking all those tiny flowers.
It isn’t quite the color you’d expect. I’ve read that some people actually add blueberry juice to their lilac jelly to make it more that light purple color normally associated with lilacs, but that seems so. . . I don’t know. . . artificial.
Did I mention how wonderful my kitchen smells? All fresh and springy and lilac-y?
I’ll definitely be making this again next year. Actually, I may be making it again as soon as I refresh my sugar supply!