There’s a lot of driveway between where you park on the shoulder of Rattlesnake Drive outside Ten Spoon Vineyard and the wine-tasting courtyard. Halfway there is the oasis, where Lavender Lori holds court. Both sides of the blacktop are lined with tightly trimmed globular green lavender bushes sprouting shaggy purple afros.
Bobbing in this ocean of lavender, people are cutting bunches, chattering as they go. Cut 10 bunches, get one free, is the deal on a normal day, but this day is special. Lavender limeade is flowing, and lavender muffins made by Iris, age 7, are available for sale. Iris shows me her lavender gnome.
A group of men and women of a certain age reach the oasis, enjoying the feeling at the center of 1,300 lavender bushes at the height of bloom, while the sound of harp strings plucked by Janie Taylor waft through the atmosphere alongside the distinctly minty, oily, earthy lavender smell that sizzles in the brain.
A very long skateboard approaches from the wine-tasting courtyard, negotiating the single blind curve in the otherwise arrow-straight driveway. Riding the skateboard is Lavender Lori.
“Seven hundred feet is a lot of blacktop,” she says. “Gotta have my longboard.”
Lavender Lori is small and cute, with long brown hair spilling out beneath her sun hat and falling upon her summer dress. Her eyes shine when she talks about lavender.
“Hello,” she greets the newcomers, “are you here for wine tasting and a bunch of lavender? Great! That’ll be $15 apiece. Would you like to cut first or drink first? If you get too drunk to cut we have bunches already made. Would you like to cut with scissors, knife or sickle?”
“Scissors will be fine, thank you.”
Every Wednesday during the lavender harvest, Lavender Lori hosts these lavender and wine appreciation nights at Ten Spoon—the vineyard formerly known as Rattlesnake Creek. Ten Spoon proprietress Connie “Conz” Poten pours generous samples of organic Blind Curve Sauvignon Blanc, Range Rider blend (a table red), Cherry Dry and Moonlight Creek Cabernet. Her partner, Andy “Sponz” Sponseller is hard at work behind the scenes in the winery, fussing over the finer points of carbonic maceration. Conz and Sponz, along with their crew, are turning out some damn fine wine these days, here in the northern extreme of wine country. After a sip or two, I reconvene with Lavender Lori at the oasis, and sample her lavender limeade. Somewhat reminiscent of basil lemonade, or regular lemonade with a sprig of mint, lavender limeade quenches thirst with aromatic sweetness.
Lavender bunches hang from the awning at the oasis, where lavender wands—bunches of lavender interwoven with ribbons and cloth—are on display. Lavender Lori has few inhibitions when it comes to her favorite plant, which she first fell for at the Sequim Valley Lavender Festival, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said, “I just got hit by a lightning bolt. I knew I had to be a lavender farmer. I didn’t have money, didn’t have land. But I wanted as many people as possible to feel what I felt when I was there. It was loopy. It was euphoria.”
There are, it seems, plenty of reasons to love lavender.
“In Victorian times they used to fold lavender with linens, due to lavender’s moth-repelling qualities. Long before that, during the black plague, Europeans would scatter lavender sprigs around their villages, because it’s an antibiotic. Soldiers in the World Wars would wrap lavender in their wounds. It’s also antifungal. You can sprinkle it on cat litter boxes to control the smell, and you can scatter it everywhere to make everything smell like lavender!”
Next to the awning, an apparatus of lab-glass demonstrates the distillation process by which lavender essential oil is extracted and purified. Lavender oil, she says, is good for burns, stings, bites, road rash and other ailments. Along with tea tree oil, it’s the only essential oil that can be taken internally.
When cooking with lavender, she cautions, don’t overdue it. Those purple flowers pack a lot of flavor, especially when they’re fresh. Start small and test the dish before adding more.
To make lavender limeade, boil 2 cups water, remove from heat, toss in 1/8 cup dried lavender buds, and let steep overnight. The next day, strain the flowers and use this water to make limeade, or lemonade—I like to combine lemonade powder (the good stuff is available in bulk at the Good Food Store), ice and lavender-infused water in the blender and whiz away.
It’s interesting that something so pungent works so well with sweet flavors, but it does.
“Have you tried my lavender-infused M&Ms?” she asked. “Ari where have you been?”
She dove into the bowels of the oasis and retrieved a tin of the bright candies swimming in those loopy purple buds. I grabbed a handful.
Since then I’ve sprinkled lavender on grilled meat, pasta and the contents of my underwear drawer, all with great results. Just remember when adding lavender to food that a little goes a long way. So unless you’re as bonkers over lavender as Lori is, start small.
Ask Chef Boy Ari: Keeping it fresh
Q: Dear CBA,
My husband and I like to buy our family’s vegetables for the week at the Saturday farmers’ markets. It makes for a fabulous morning, with a perky drink and a muffin, but by week’s end the fridge’s contents are flaccid at best. Week-old salad? No thanks—I’d rather eat three-day-old homemade baby food.
How can we have our local food and eat it fresh, too?
—Wilted for the weekend
A: Dear Wilted,
Missoula has two midweek markets where the farmers will be very happy to see you. Tuesday’s market, by the XXXXs at the north end of Higgins, starts at 5:45 p.m. (and not a moment before, or the market police will PUNISH whomever sells you the fruit of their toils before the bell) and lasts for 90 minutes (and not a moment more! When the bell rings a second time, selling produce becomes a crime). There, you can upgrade your flaccid vegetal units.
On Thursdays, the Clark Fork Market under the Higgins Avenue bridge gets rolling around 5 and lasts ’til 8, give or take—no stopwatches, tape measures or other anal accoutrements here. After market, you and your man can walk under the bridge to Caras Park, take in the music at Downtown ToNight and grab a bite to eat.
Unlike at Saturday markets, whose produce is more than likely harvested on Friday, midweek market produce is harvested that very day. Midweek markets are good for farmers, too, because like that proverbial cow, those plants need “milking” more than once a week. You never know: some farmers might be ready to make a deal on a quantity of something, and since this is the freshest food you can buy, it’s the ideal time to acquire a stash for freezing and canning.
Send your food and garden queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.