Eat Local: Homemade Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Eat Local: Homemade Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream is a delightful vehicle for summer seasonal ingredients in unexpected combinations. Case in point: lavender-infused ice cream with blueberries.

Lavender is more versatile as a culinary herb than most people realize. It has been used for least 2,500 years as a recipe ingredient as well as for cosmetics and perfumes. In the garden, its pale, blue-purple flowers and gray foliage provide fragrance and ornamental value.

The Lavandula genus includes many different species and cultivars. Some are better suited to certain regions and uses than others. If you reside in the Northeast and want to grow culinary lavender, try the popular Lavandula angustifolia, prized for its sweet aroma, and its cultivars ‘Hidcote’, ‘Mustead’, or ‘Sarah’. Another good option: L. x intermedia which has a sharper tone but is still suitable for cooking.

Lavenders prefer a sunny location with good airflow and lean, dry, sweet (alkaline) soil. The options above are hardy to zone 5 but should be planted in a protected, well-drained location. If you're in doubt about whether your plant will survive the winter, cover it with evergreen boughs in late fall.

Try adding lavender to sweet or savory dishes, but use a light hand—too much will taste bitter or soapy and overwhelm the palate. If you have a particularly large harvest of flowers, simply hang them to dry in a well-ventilated area. When you need them, use about 1/3 the volume dried as you would fresh in any given recipe.

Lavender can be mixed with other aromatic herbs to make a dry rub for meats. Try marinating olives in a mix of lavender, rosemary, thyme, orange peel, chili, and bay leaf for at least one day for a delicious and surprising treat. It also pairs extremely well with chocolate and fruits, adds a pleasing note to shortbread, and is absolutely amazing in the ice cream recipe below.

Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream

Here I’ve chosen a combination of buttermilk and cream cheese to get the creamy texture that is often difficult to achieve when making ice cream at home. The lavender is subtle and doesn’t overwhelm when steeped for only a short time in the cream. Plan to churn it in your ice cream maker at least 3 hours ahead of serving time to ensure the mixture freezes firm.

  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 cup whole buttermilk
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup mild honey
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms (or 3 tablespoons fresh)
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz. cubed cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • ¼ cup mild honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Prepare an ice bath by nesting a medium sized bowl into a larger bowl filled with water and ice cubes. Heat the cream, buttermilk, sugar, honey, and lavender over medium-high heat until just under boiling (about 180 degrees° F). Whisk half of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Whisking constantly, transfer this back into the hot saucepan and return to medium-low heat.

Whisk in the cream cheese and gently cook the mixture until it reaches about 160 degrees or it coats the back of a spoon. Pour through a mesh sieve into the iced bowl, pushing through any remaining clumps of cream cheese with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool completely in the refrigerator (about 1 hour) or store covered in the refrigerator overnight. If the mixture still seems lumpy, simply run it through a food processor or blender until smooth.

Meanwhile, place the blueberries, honey, and lemon zest in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 to 12 minutes. The fruit should break down into a chunky syrup. If you prefer, you can cook the fruit less, so that it will have an icy, almost crunchy texture in the ice cream. When you have achieved your desired consistency, remove from the heat and cool completely.

Place the cooled cream mixture into the bowl of your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is very thick. Transfer the churned cream and blueberry syrup alternately into layers in a freezer safe container. Place in the freezer until firm and enjoy!

The Eat Local series features seasonal, locally available ingredients and recipes. It was the recipienct of a 2016 Silver Medal for Blog Writing from the Garden Writers Association.

Sarah Owens is the owner of BK17 Bakery and the author of Sourdough, winner of the 2015 James Beard Foundation Book Award (Baking and Dessert). She was the curator of the Cranford Rose Garden and the Rose Arc Pool at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for six years.

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Image, top of page: Sarah Owens