Thyme for Tea

Tea Parties: July: A Lavender Tea


This month, China's tea party celebrates lovely lavender, one of the best-loved herbs of all time. It's name is said to be derived from the Latin word lavare, to wash. And for centuries, a primary use for lavender was to scent bath water and to create scented soaps. Lavender bags have been used to perfume linens, to stuff cushions, and to fill sachets. In London, if you wanted to buy lavender, you listened for the cry of the street vendor:
Lavender, sweet blooming lavender,
Six bunches a penny today.
Lavender, sweet blooming lavender,
Ladies, buy it while you may.

Lore

Lavender's meanings are often ambiguous. Lovers offered lavender as a token of their devotion, but the herb was also known to represent deception and distrust. Lavender is one of the wedding herbs, and yet where it thrives in a garden, it was said that the daughters of the house would never marry: "Lavender will only grow in old maids' gardens," the saying went.

Today, lavender is also recognized for its healing properties. It can soothe headaches, encourage restful sleep, and calm frazzled nerves. A wonderful antidote for the often frantic days of summer!

Decorations

  • Flowers. China's fresh-flower tea party decorations are entirely herbal: white or crystal bowls and vases filled with lavender, mint, love-lies-bleeding, Silver King, and a few white roses, tied with lavender chiffon and silver ribbon.

  • Little Lavender Pots. Here's a miniature take-home treat for each of your tea party guests. Fill 2" terra cotta pots with florists' foam. Insert lavender stalks into the foam to fill in the center of the pot. Tie strands of lavender or blue raffia around the pot, making a pretty bow in front. If you have other dried herbs or flowers, these could be used to vary the arrangements.

  • Sweet Lavender Heart. Nothing is quite so romantic as a fresh lavender heart. Here's how to make them to dress up your table, and as take-home favors.

  • Scented lavender oil lamps. If you have oil lamps—not the large hurricane style, but the smaller lamps, often in the shape of tiny crystal vases—you can scent the lamp oil with lavender oil and place them in the center of your table. Try blue lamp oil for a lovely touch!

Menu

Recipes

Quiche with Thyme and Lavender

  • One 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
  • 1¼ cups grated Swiss cheese
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1½ cup mushrooms
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 Tbsp lavender flowers
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

Heat oven to 350°. Line the pastry shell with parchment paper and put in ½ inch or so of dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes; remove weights and parchment, reduce heat to 325F, and bake for about 8 minutes more, or until the bottom is dry. Sprinkle ¼ cup grated cheese over the bottom of the crust and bake for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Remove and cool.

In a large skillet, heat the butter. Add the mushrooms and saute, stirring. Drain and cool. In a large bowl combine the eggs, evaporated milk, lavender, 1 cup grated cheese, salt, and nutmeg. Stir in the mushrooms and pour into the crust. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top is just set. Serve warm or cold. 8 servings.

Lavender Heart Cookies

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 2 tblsp fresh lavender blossoms

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in flour and lavender and push into a soft ball. Cover and chill for 20 minutes. Heat oven to 400°. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface and cut into about 18 cookies, using a heart-shaped cutter. Place on heavy baking sheet and bake until golden (about 10 minutes), watching carefully to be sure cookies do not burn. Allow to stand on hot cookie sheet about 5 minutes. Transfer carefully with spatula to a wire rack. Cool. Sprinkle with lavender sugar.

Lavender Sugar

  • 4 cups superfine sugar
  • 1 tblsp dried lavender blossoms

Blend together and store in tightly-lidded container 3-4 weeks. Shake occasionally. Sift to remove lavender flowers before using.

Lovely Lavender Cake

  • 3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1½ cups flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tblsp fresh lavender blossoms or 1 tsp dried, minced
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tblsp milk
  • ½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • ½ tsp water
  • 2 tblsp fresh lavender blossoms

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and dust a ring pan or 9" cake tin with flour. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating until the mixture is glossy and thick. Fold in flour, lavender blossoms, vanilla, and milk. Pour into pan and bake for 1 hour. Turn onto wire rack to cool. Mix confectioners sugar with water until smooth. Drizzle over cake. Garnish with fresh lavender flowers.

Lavender Muffins

  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½ stick of butter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet ingredients in another. Add the wet to the dry, stirring only until the dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Fill greased muffin tin (or paper muffin cups). Bake about 20 minutes, until golden. Makes 1 dozen.