Harvesting lavender…those words together sound pretty idyllic. Even in the heat and smoke from Okanagan fires it is a pretty amazing way to spend a morning. It is the only farm work I’ve done where you come home hot, dirty and sore but smelling better than when you started.
In movie speak It’s The Colour of Purple, Scent of a Woman and Attack of the Killer Bees all rolled into one. The glorious purpleness of the fields, the clean, stringent and all encompassing lavender aroma and the buzzing of a zillion bees make the time spent at Forest Greenman Lavender Farm in Naramata an intense sensory experience. This photo essay captures the sights of the morning…your imagination will have to fill in the rest.
Apple butter is a highly concentrated form of apple sauce produced by long, slow cooking of apples to a point where the sugar in the apples caramelize turning the apple butter a deep brown. Originating in the Middle Ages at monasteries with apple orchards, the secret to making this delicious preserve came over to colonial America with the settlers. Apple butter originated as a way to store apples without refrigeration, before canning was available. Groups would get together for an all-day affair that involved big kettles filled with apples, cider and spices that required constant stirring with big wooden paddles.
Everything you would ever need to know about the historical methods of making apple butter and a recipe to make your own with original methods can be found on the skill cultblog. It’s author encouraged me to try to the historical version but a bit leery on the food safety question, I decided sterilizing jars and finishing off with a good hard boil in a canner was a surer bet.
My recipe is a modern version using a crockpot, an apple peeler (can peel by hand) and an immersion blender (can use a blender or a whisk) and requires no all-day wooden paddle manning. Maybe I’m missing out although I’m happily married to my swain, The Handyman…
Here is where the fun came in, or the ladle was too large, in theory, at least, to be handled by one person, and it was customary for the girls and boys in pairs to take turns in stirring. The lady always had the choice of a partner to assist her when her turn came, and whichever swain she selected was regarded by the others as her favourite beau… The Conquest of Missouri, Joseph Mills Hanson, 1918
Step One: Apples
Step 2 Peel
Step 3 Fill your crock-pot
Step 4 Add sugar and spices
Step 5 Cook on low for about 10 hours
Step 6 Water bath can your apple butter. Sterilize your canning jars, fill them leaving 1/4 inch head space, wipe rims clean, place your lids on and place in a canner filled with boiling water and boil for 15 minutes.
Despite a setting of almost unreal bucolic beauty taken even father into a dream state by its heady scent and the background buzz of a million bees, lavender harvesting, like other farm-work, is hard-work. Bend, employ your hand and wrist to gather stocks, saw them off with your mini scythe with its serrated edge, repeat several more times, gather together into one big bunch, wrestle an elastic band twice around the bunch and repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat…on the hottest days of the summer so far this year.
2. You learn a ton about your fellow harvesters and harvesting with interesting, smart people with great stories is an antidote to 34 degree heat. Topics of conversation, in no particular order, included: Naramata gossip, farming, football, antique shopping in France, tai chi, swimming, children, pesticide practices, recipes, American politics, British politics, writing, travel, sciatica, tendonitis, knee replacements, house renovation, recipes, cherries, bee hives, ski instructing, mountain guiding, tragic accidents, cycling, triathlon, the English Channel, ancestry, dogs, raspberry farming, wine, helicopters, fire fighting, the olympics, compost, lavender and a story about the lavender farm’s co-owner’s middle-of-the-night chase after an escaped chicken disturbed by a fox that ended with an descriptive image of Doug with a chicken under one arm and a 22 over his other shoulder returning home buck naked.
3. Bees are big fans of lavender, especially when most other Okanagan Valley crops are no longer in bloom and numerous apiarists have cleverly placed hives near the lavender farm. As we worked, bees would move from the plant being harvested to the next, in their quest to make lavender honey. The Handyman, who also came to harvest, was worried. “What’s going to happen when we reach the very last plant? There are going to be a great many very pissed off bees on it.” Fortunately, we left before that eventuality.
4. I am a miser. The harder I work for a buck the less I am willing to spend it. This goes for the income from our raspberry farming as well. Money earned from writing is much easier to spend on a lunch out or a drink at the lovely distillery at the end of our road.
5. This sounds completely romance novel mawkishly sentimental, but experiences like harvesting lavender at Doug and Karolina’s farm with The Handyman, our friend Bill and new friends made in the field, makes me love Naramata all the more. A last snippet of conversation to dispel the barfiness…”Doug, I think the best place to fart is in a lavender field. No one would notice.” Doug’s measured response, “I completely disagree. I think the contrast is too great. A much better place to pass wind would be in a sewage treatment plant where it would go unremarked, in my opinion.”
The lure of lavender has spawned a tourism industry that sees France’s Provence region inundated with photographers and plein air painters jostling for space. Naramata’s Forest Green Man Lavender offers stunning vistas with an incredible lake view and the-breathe-deeply, clean, distinctive lavender perfume – sans crowds. The clincher…the friendly local Naramatian vibe of its proprietors, Doug Mathias and Karolina Born-Tschuemperlin.
“This is a happy place,” Karolina says. “It’s a soft, sweet place with the rolling hills and scent and it just seems to make people feel good. I love to see their smiles as they come around the corner and see the view for the first time when the fields are in bloom. It’s like we live in the Shire from the Hobbit.”
The farm has been growing lavender since 2000. With more than 2,500 lavender plants on its six acres, Forest Green Man features a shop in its new barn filled with high-quality lavender bath and kitchen lavender products all made from natural ingredients. An art gallery featuring many of Karolina’s own paintings is located up the barn stairs.
Naramatian Doug and and Swiss-born Karolina are masters of all things lavender and volley rapid-fire interesting lavender facts as we bask in the sun on a bench overlooking the lavender with the farm’s pear trees in the distance.
There are about 140 varieties in the world, about 50 in Canada and U.S. and 17 on the farm.
The word “lavender” comes from the Latin word lavandula which comes from the Latin verb lavare which means “to wash”. The Romans used lavender to scent their bathwater and wash their clothes.
Lavender is part of the mint family.
Calming, soothing, its long been used as a home remedy for sleeplessness and nervousness and as a disinfectant.
Monks spread lavender on their monastery floors and its scent was released when they walked on. It was believed to have helped ward off malaria.
It takes 100 kilos of lavender to make just one litre of lavender oil (which Doug distills after the harvest in July).
Different varieties of lavender are used for different products. For example, Royal Velvet and Folgate are great oil producers and other lavenders are grown specifically for use in cooking and for the lovely lavender lemonade offered at Green Man.
Karolina walked me through a typical day at the height of lavender season in July. “On harvest day we start to cut very early in the morning at 4:30 a.m. before the heat of the day. With a crew we cut and hang the bunches everywhere to dry and quit at 11 a.m. when it’s too hot to keep going. I then open the shop, water all the plants in pots, clean the fountain, make the lavender lemonade (we go through gallons when it’s hot) and generally tidy up. It sounds like a lot of work but I don’t think it’s a hard life. I would much rather be doing this than sitting in a cubicle. It’s a beautiful life and changes every month.”
Many of the farm’s lavender plants are coming to the end of their approximately 14-year lifespan and the couple will begin replacing them with new vigorous ones row-by-row. They may also be planting the remaining meadow with an additional thousand plants. The farm is also a stop for Emily Carr University of Art and Design plein air painters again this summer and will be the sight for many wedding photos. Visitors can also get a total lavender immersion by sleeping like babies in its bright orange rental cottage.
1/2 cup berry sugar or superfine sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp rice flour (gives it a nice texture)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
2 tsp dried Forest Green Man culinary lavender
Preheat oven to 275F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix sugar, flours and salt together in a bowl. Add the cold butter and toss until coated. Add the lavender and pulse in a food processor for 10 seconds. Shape into a ball and roll the ball on a lightly floured surface into a log shape about 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Remove the plastic and use a sharp knife to cut thin slices (about 1 cm thick) and place an inch apart on the baking sheet. Use a fork to poke the centre of each cookie to stop air bubbles from forming.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the cookies are lightly golden. Transfer to a cooing rack.
Off to the greenhouse to propagate some lavender from cuttings with Karolina’s tips…tomorrow’s post.