It is spring in Colorado, finally. I don’t know what is normal weather here but I have never lived in a place where it snows on the first day of May or where it is 70° F one day and then 30 the next. I guess you can still call that time spring, but spring for me was always flowers and shoots and green all over the place.
One of the first signs of spring here is lilac. This is the first time in my life I have lived in a place with this many lilacs. The trees are everywhere! So many houses and complexes use them as hedges and decorative plants. When going out on my bike rides you pass areas where the smell completely fills the air. The abundance got me excited. I have worked with some flowers in the past, mostly elderflowers and dandelions, and knew from my foraging reading that lilacs were edible so I took the plunge and went out to harvest some to try out some recipes.
Disclaimer: Never eat anything you have foraged unless you can be 100% (not 99%, a full 100%) sure that you identify what you are going to eat. Also always be 100% sure that you are not allergic to it as well. Foraging is something to always be careful about. Do not use this blog post as identification for foraging use other resources. I am not responsible for any problems that occur if you choose to forage and eat lilacs.
I decided after searching Pinterest for a while I would try lilacs four ways – sugar, syrup, cookies, and jelly – then got to plucking flowers. Based on lots of reading I knew that with lilacs you don’t eat the stems, just the flowers. So you need to remove all the flowers individual from the stems….ok blog posts, WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME HOW MUCH THIS SUCKS?!?!?!?!?! Seriously, what the heck! The recipes I complied required a total of 8 cups of flowers, by cup two I was wondering why anyone ever worked with lilacs in the first place. I smelled like lilac, there were lilacs flowers and stem pieces all over the place, and the Golden State Warriors playoff game was over. I quickly decided that, this round, jelly was out. Dr. Beer(nickname pending?) doesn’t like jelly anyway so I would have to eat it all myself.
Recipe #1: Lilac simple syrup – as the names says, super simple!
Recipe modified generally from every simple syrup recipe out there. What I found super amusing was my 1967 Joy of Cooking called it heavy sirup.
1 cup water (I used ½ lb)
1 cup granulate sugar (I used ½ lb)
1 cup lilac flowers
- Add water and sugar to a small sauce pan over medium heat.
- Heat until dissolved and begins to simmer.
- Add lilac flowers and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off heat and leave for 30 minutes.
- Strain out lilacs, bottle, and store in the refrigerator.
I make a lot of simple syrups for coffee add-ins, mixed drinks, and make your own sodas. I like to use perfectly equal parts of sugar and water by weight (hence the ½ pound) but you don’t have to. Turns out that 1 cup each is pretty dang close anyway and this isn’t baking.
Love that dusky purple but that syrup is slightly astringent/bitter.
Lessons learned: Lilacs smell great and floral but can taste astringent and bitter. It also turns out that the dark purple flowers I picked from one specific bush and used here to get a more purple color syrup were the worst of them. Leaving the lilacs sitting for 30 minutes longer probably added to the great color but also added the bitterness. You can shorten this time if you don’t mind the syrup not being as natural purple. I now know to taste different bushes first before picking and have figured out my tastier lilac bushes around the neighborhood.
I did read a blog (Hollyandfora.com) that said to add in 5-8 blueberries to make it brilliant purple. It is never blueberry season here (turns out they don’t grow in Colorado soil well, who knew???) so I used my method instead. Now for some mixed drinks!
Recipe #2: Lilac Sugar – super simple, theoretically…
Recipe inspired by Call Me Cupcake.
12 ounce jar (or any other size really, just reduce flowers)
1 cup lilac flowers, cleaned and dry
- Spoon a layer of sugar in bottom of jar then add lilac flowers. Repeat until all lilacs are in the jar. End adding sugar to the top. Doesn’t have to be perfect!
- Close and shake. Put in dark, dry place (I used a kitchen cabinet) for a couple days, shaking ever so often.
- Sift sugar to remove flowers, and enjoy! Make sure to remove flowers or they start smelling like rotting flowers…
Simple enough right! All the pictures I saw looked so pretty with flowers in a jar with sugar all purple and happy. Here is mine, so pretty right! Moving forward though, maybe I did something wrong but…
My sugar started to stick together. I actually expected this. The flowers have moisture in them and and this is what happens to sugar when exposed to moisture. That I could handle, I figured I would just dry the sugar out after all was said and done.
Then when I tried to sift the sugar out…IT DIDN’T!!! Maybe my sugar was too clumpy, maybe my sieve was too small (I don’t actually have a sifter because I use sieves as sifters). I tried ever sieve in the house to no avail. I was about to give up when I remembered my old school manual press I picked up at a garage sale sans pestle and stand. This actually worked though it took a ton of effort. Using my hand I was able to force most of the sugar through with only a few flowers tagging along (bonus, licking sugar off hand!). The final product wasn’t so pretty but it does smell like lilacs. Not sure it tastes that floral either I will update if I change my mind about this.
So there you have it, the truth behind my lilac sugar. No real lessons learned on this one…except that I might not do flower sugar again.
Thank you for reading my first blog post. I hope to only progress from here and I hope you join me for the ride!