It has been unusually windy in New York City these past few days. Yesterday, when I walked into the Union Square Farmers Market I was hit by a big gust of wind thick with the smell of fresh donuts and root vegetables and above all, lavender and it got me thinking about nature as nourishment.
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s, The Secret Garden is a book full to the brim with mouthwatering, stomach grumbling foods; “home-made bread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and clotted cream…sizzling ham sending forth tempting odors from under a hot silver cover,” “potatoes and richly frothed new milk and oat-cakes and buns and heather honey” (320). Despite the wealth of food, however, it seems that it is the garden itself that nourishes Colin and Mary and Dickon. The garden not only gives the children a new sense of purpose, the fresh air and physical exertion make them hungry, and they find themselves eating more than they ever have before. After she finds and starts restoring the secret garden Mary, who has just been moved from India to the moors of England after losing both of her parents, quickly begins to change: “I’m getting fatter and fatter every day,” she said quite exultantly. “Mrs. Medlock will have to get me some bigger dresses. Martha says my hair is growing thicker. It isn’t so flat and stringy” (209). Mary begins telling Colin, her young cousin who is afflicted with a mysterious (bogus) illness and virtually parentless, about the secret garden and immediately sees a change in him as well. It is Dickon who insists Colin come see it, saying, “It’d be good for him, I’ll warrant…Us’d just be two children watchin’ a garden grow, an’ he’d be another. Two Lads an’ a little lass just lookin’ on at th’ springtime. I warrant it’d be better than doctor’s stuff” (204). And Dickon is right. Colin is soon restored to full health from his days spent out in the garden.
When I smelled the lavender in the market yesterday I couldn’t resist it. Even though this isn’t a recipe explicitly mentioned in The Secret Garden I thought it was a great way to combine flowers and sweets—plus, what is more English than shortbread and lavender? I also could not resist buying some pink Himalayan sea-salt to sprinkle on top. There is nothing more delicious than a salty-sweet shortbread unless it’s a salty-sweet shortbread that comes studded with purple, green, and pink.
Secret Garden Lavender Lemon Shortbread
8 Tbs (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup corstarch
1 Tbs fresh or dried lavender (I think fresh is better, the dried is too hard and perfumey for my taste, blech)
2 Tbs lemon zest
sea salt for sprinkling (any color is fine!)
With an electric mixer cream the butter until soft. Add sugar and beat until incorporated. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, lavender buds, lemon zest, salt and cornstarch. Add flour mixture to butter mixture slowly and mix until dough begins to form.
Take dough out of the bowl and place on a piece of floured parchment paper. It will be crumbly, so knead it until it forms a nice solid ball. Roll out onto the parchment paper until about 1/4 inch thick.
I trimmed the edges of mine to make cutting them into bars easier, but you can keep the edges crumbly if you prefer it. Poke dough all over with the tines of a fork. Transfer the dough, still on parchment paper, to your baking pan. Garnish with lavender buds and sea salt.
Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until edges brown.
The result is a buttery and crisp crumbly shortbread with just enough lavender and nice kicks of lemon and salt throughout.