I still remember the first time I smelled the magical scent of lilac. Years ago, a friend brought me some cut flowers from a bush in her yard, and I was instantly smitten. I couldn’t stop burying my face in the light purple blossoms, and years later I’m still enamored by their elegance and the memories they induce.
Lilac is believed to have originated on the Balkan peninsula, where it grows on rocky hills. It was noted to have been cultivated in the late 16th century as a garden favorite. Today there are over 1,000 lilac varieties in existence in shades of pale purple and pink to bright white or deep magenta.
The scent of the lilac is ephemeral — it’s fleeting, then quickly fades. When the lilacs are in bloom, their scent clings to the air. It’s something I want to hold onto for as long as possible. And I like to do so by making all the lilac things!! Lilac sugar, lilac salt, lilac water, lilac simple syrup... get the idea?
Start off by gathering lilacs first thing in the morning, when they're still dewy. This will help them to retain their sweetest scent. Place the cut branches into a vase with water until you're ready to use them. If you're using them right away, give them a good shake to remove bugs or debris. I like to whack them gently against the side of the sink. Then allow them to wilt just slightly. Just as it did with the forsythia blossoms, this helps coax out the scent of lilacs. Sometime's I'll strip the blossoms from the stems and other times I will leave them on. And this just depends on how I'm using them. For example, if I'm making lilac water, I will leave the blossoms intact. If I'm making lilac sugar or salt, I'll strip the blossoms from the stems since they'll be spending more time in the mixture, ultimately drying.
And what would a blog post be without a recipe or two! Lilac sugar is one of my favorite ways to use lilac flowers. I put it on EVERYTHING from cookies to cocktails. There are two classic cocktails that wouldn't be complete without an overly sugary rim: The Sidecar and The Brandy Crusta. I admit - it's the sugar rim that gets me excited about these two cocktails but they are equally delicious.
Crusta cocktails always contain a spirit, lemon juice, and sugar. The sugar is applied to the rim and dried until a "crust" is formed. Typically a long strip of orange or lemon peel is peeled to fit inside of the glass but in the case of the Lilac Crusta, I made a lemon rosette that will be dunked into the glass before imbibing.
1 3/4 oz brandy
3/4 oz curaçao* 1/2 oz lemon juice 1/2 oz lilac simple syrup 3 dashes of orange bitters
Run an orange slice along the outside of a glass and dip into lilac sugar. Set aside. Add all remaining ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into prepared glass and garnish with a lemon rosette. Be sure to dunk the lemon into the glass before drinking.
1/2 cup lilac blossoms removed from the stem
1/2 cup of sugar, divided
Shake the lilac blossoms and 1/4 cup of sugar together in a jar and cover lightly so that air can still pass through. Set on the counter in a dry place. Shake whenever you think about it and leave to infuse overnight. Place the lilac-infused sugar into a spice grinder and pulse to combine. In a clean jar, combine lilac-infused sugar with 1/4 cup of the remaining sugar. Shake to combine. Store in a sealed jar in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
LILAC SIMPLE SYRUP
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lilac blossoms,
pulled from the stem
Combine water and sugar in a small pot, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved completely and the syrup has slightly thickened, remove from the heat. Add the lilac blossoms, cover, and steep for 20 minutes. Strain solids, reserving the syrup. Cool completely before using. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
*you can also try making lilac liqueur using the same method that I use for forsythia liqueur in a previous post!