Lilacs — in candied form, they're a literal taste of spring
This low-maintenance, seen-everywhere flower is perfectly edible too
The grow-anywhere Ceanothus, wild lilac (also known as California or Oregon lilac) is super-tough, tolerates a fair bit of hardship, and has self-hybridized into many forms and colours. From inch-tall creeping groundcovers to those familiar trees — and in warmer climates, even evergreens — lilacs are a pretty springtime feature gardens across North America. Woody, domesticated lilacs, in shades from pure white to deep purple, make lovely cut flower arrangements, but did you know, the tiny flowers are also edible?
In the garden
There is a lilac for almost every growing zone, from four to nine, and in addition to being edible, they are low maintenance. Provide your wild or nursery-grown lilac with just enough moisture to establish itself; after that, hold off on the watering. This plant requires summer drought and lean soil to do well in the garden. That's part of their appeal and why they are everywhere! They do well in full sun to partial shade, and love a well-drained spot in rocky, sloping ground.
In the kitchen
You can use fragrant lilac flowers raw in drinks, to decorate baked goods, in candy-making, and for jams and jellies. Simply add them to a favourite recipe, as you might a tiny berry, sprinkle over desserts and cocktails as a stunning spring garnish, or flowering twigs around a roast of lamb, ham or poultry. Remember, if using a lilac from the garden centre, make sure it hasn't been sprayed with any chemicals.
Candied Lilac Flowers
This tutorial comes from pastry chef, Eyal Liebman. If you don't have access to lilacs that you're sure have not been sprayed, go ahead and use un-treated violets instead, which can sometimes be found in the herb section of larger grocers.
Set up a double boiler over medium-high heat. Add one or two egg whites to the bowl and cook stirring, bringing the whites to a temperature of 130F degrees (use a candy thermometer), to pasteurize the whites and ensure the flowers will be able to keep for a while.
Set up a production line of a small bowl of superfine sugar (fine vanilla sugar would be nice too), a bowl of the pasteurized egg whites, clean tweezers or fine needle nose plyers, a new, cleaned paintbrush, and a fine cooling rack or sieve.
Gather some lilac flowers and give them a gentle shake to dislodge any bugs or debris.
Cover the flowers all over in the egg whites — dip or use the brush, then coat gently with sugar, but be sure to get it into the crevices. Give each one another delicate shake to remove the excess sugar, then set them aside on the rack to dry. Drying takes a day or two depending on the humidity in the air.
Once dry, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two months.
Signe Langford is a restaurant chef-turned-writer from Hudson, Que., now living in Port Hope, Ont. She tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for such publications as: Harrowsmith (where she's the food editor), LCBO's Food & Drink, Today's Parent and Watershed. In 2015, she published her award-winning book, Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes. Follow her @sigster64.