For the past two weeks or more, I have been battling my first sinus infection in at least 15 years. As a result, I have been functioning essentially without a sense of taste or smell for all that time, so there has not been much cooking going on. It is remarkable how much I have come to rely on smell as I cook! Even now, only the most powerful scents and flavors are able to penetrate my clogged sinuses, which is why it is such a blessing that the French lilacs in the backyard have finally started to bloom.
With that cheerful fragrance in my nostrils, I have been putting together the menu for a tea party in honor of our elderly lilac-loving neighbor, Betty, who moved from her house across the street into an assisted living facility a few months back. My mom and her best friend have started a tea party ministry, mostly for Christian women, and this was the first event that I was on hand to assist with. The more I read about good nutrition lately, the more I have been feeling moved to bring truly nourishing food to the elderly, and since Betty has some pretty poor eating habits, I was excited at the opportunity to pamper her and her table-mates at the facility. I thought it would be fun to feature a British classic, fresh crumpets with a few appropriate accoutrements such as homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam, lemon curd sweetened with Colorado honey, and clotted cream made from organic, pastured, raw dairy.
I’ve never made crumpets before, but they have been on my list since we got some English muffin rings at an estate sale in April. They turned out to be very easy to make, just a loose yeasted batter with a little baking soda added near the end for extra aeration. I used my quarter-cup disher to plop equal amounts of batter into each buttered ring on my hot griddle, and cooked them on medium-low heat until the bottoms were crisp and golden-brown and the tops were set, no longer shiny, and full of appetizing nooks and crannies. You don’t necessarily have to flip them, but I did briefly turn a few that were on the thick side, just to make sure that they cooked through. Nolan and I sampled the batch for our breakfast, and found them absolutely delicious—crisp underneath and very much like a moist English muffin on top.
Now that I have weekly access to raw milk and cream, I knew I wanted to try my hand at making clotted cream to go with the crumpets. After skimming the bulk of the cream from two gallons of milk, I ended up with at least a pint to cook down. Clotted cream is essentially a process of gently warming the cream—never allowing it to reach a simmer—until it forms a buttery crust on top, which is then skimmed off and chilled. I heated my cream in a double boiler over low heat for several hours, and ended up with about half a cup of clotted cream, a sweet, nutty product with a texture a bit like whipped butter. It was a time-consuming process for the amount I ended up with, so this is definitely a special-occasion treat, the perfect complement to homemade jam and honeyed lemon curd.
To round out the crumpets, we made chocolate-covered strawberries and these little lettuce cups filled with tzatziki-inspired tuna salad and garnished with a beet sprout (colorful leftovers from thinning the garden!). The goal was a delicious and nourishing, but not overwhelming menu to go with some Earl Grey Creme tea, and I think we accomplished that nicely.
For a final touch, I thought maybe I could candy some lilac blossoms to garnish the crumpets. After making simple syrup with organic cane sugar, I decided that the French lilac blossoms were really too tiny and delicate to candy; changing gears on the fly, I ended up making fragrant lilac syrup tinted to a delicate purple with the addition of a few blueberries.
This syrup was perhaps an even greater success than the crumpets and clotted cream, with not only the flavor of lilacs but a delicate spiciness that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. If I drank alcohol, I would so be using this stuff in cocktails, but as is, I think it will make not only a perfect sweetener for tea, but also a flavoring agent for fruit salads, yogurt, and smoothies; I am very tempted to make more to can before the lilacs die back.
All the food went over very well, and very little of it came back from the tea party. I was told that the ladies particularly enjoyed the lilac syrup, and each had several cups of tea infused with it; they had lots of jealous comments from other residents, so we may have to expand the invitations next time! I was hoping for some photos of the party itself to share with you, but my mom was so busy entertaining that she forgot about her camera.
1 C organic sugar
1 C filtered water
1 C lilac blossoms, rinsed
Handful of blueberries
Mix together the sugar and water; heat until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in lilac blossoms, and blueberries for color. Cook on low for 15 minutes, drain through a sieve and store in a jar for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. You can store it in the freezer in plastic containers for use the following winter; or can it in half-pint jars, adding the juice of 1 lemon and following canning instructions on a pectin package.
Source: Green Botanicals.