Lilacs remind me of my childhood home. The backyard there is divided by a row of mature bushes. The line of lilacs, some as tall as 15 feet, include dark purple ones, lavender ones and white ones, some sporting single petal blossoms, others double petal blossoms. Any breeze lifts their scent through the kitchen windows.

I have lilac bushes in several spots in my own yard now. They are pretty, but not as prolific as the ones of my youth, so I can’t pick too many to bring indoors. I do clip one bundle of blooming branches to sit on my dining room table per season. I might pick a second, and put it in my office, if I am struggling through a particularly tough deadline, a reward for keeping my butt in the chair to get the job done.

This was the first year, though, that I brought them into my kitchen to eat them. Yes, you can indeed safely eat lilac flowers that have not been sprayed with pesticides. The leaves are safe to eat but unpleasantly bitter. The blossoms are tastier; their scent is scads stronger than their flavor, which is emphatically floral and subtly lemony.

I’ve eaten other flowering plants in my yard, like hostas and dandelions. I have wild violets, too, but I don’t eat those as they grow in the part of the yard where my dogs relieve themselves. But I’ve learned to treat lilac flowers like violets in the kitchen: fresh, you simply pick the individual flowers from the cluster stems and toss them in greed salads or bowls of fruit.

You can candy lilacs to decorate springtime tarts and cakes, a process that is best tackled by a patient cook or a meticulous, artistic child. Beat local egg white with a teaspoon of gin (this helps with the drying process as alcohol evaporates quickly) and pinch of salt (this helps the white break down smoothly). Pick up one flower at a time and use a paint brush to apply the egg white mixture on the front and back of the flower and then dip it in a bowl of superfine sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and place the candied flower on a paper towel to dry. These will be crunchy after an hour of drying time. Use them within six hours; after that, they start to get soggy. If raw egg whites make you nervous, you can paint the flowers with simple syrup, but they will get soggy after about two hours.

For a longer-lasting lilac ingredient for cooking, you can infuse lilacs into sugar or simple syrup. Combine a handful of lilac flowers in a cup of sugar in a mason jar with a lid. Shake the jar everyday for a week. You can keep the flowers in there indefinitely, or you can sift out the flowers and compost them. Use the sugar in baked goods that can carry a floral note – like scones or sugar cookies.

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Lilac Lemonade made with lilac-infused sugar syrup, lemon juice, blueberries and club soda. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

You make lilac syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan. Simmer this mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add a handful of lilac blossoms and 1 tablespoon frozen wild blueberries (for color) to the syrup. Steep overnight and strain into a mason jar, composting the solids. Store this syrup in the refrigerator up to a month. This syrup, mixed with an equal measure of lemon juice and diluted with club soda, makes a beautiful lemonade or lilac drizzle for lemon cupcakes.

As we move into summer, the lilacs will be fading away soon. Bring a few into your kitchen before they are all gone.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige frosts the Lemon Lilac Drizzle Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream. The candied lilac blossoms, for garnish, are to the right. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Lemon Lilac Drizzle Cupcakes

I fell in love with lemon drizzle cake while living in England. It’s doubly tart because a lemon syrup gets poured over the cake before it is cooled and frosted. The lilac syrup adds a floral counterpoint. The lemon buttercream is adapted from a recipe on the food blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction. I like the tang, the creaminess and the fact that the lemon juice doesn’t curdle the frosting. It can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Before using it, bring it to room temperature and beat it for about a minute in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Makes 18 cupcakes

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FOR THE DRIZZLE:

1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup lilac blossoms
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

FOR THE BATTER:

1½ cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon lemon juice
5 ounces (1¼ sticks; 150 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup whole milk

FOR THE LEMON BUTTERCREAM:

8 ounces (2 sticks; 227 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4½ cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Pinch of salt
Candied lilac blossoms, for garnish

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To make the drizzle, combine the sugar with 1/4 water in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and simmer until the sugar melts. Remove from the heat. Add the lilac blossoms and lemon juice. Set aside to steep for 2 hours. Strain the syrup into a bowl. Set aside. Compost the solids.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line muffin tins with 18 paper liners.

To make the batter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. In a metal bowl, beat the egg whites and lemon juice until the whites hold a stiff peak. Set aside. Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream the mixture, using the paddle attachment, until it is pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs yolks individually, beating well after each addition. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low to just combine. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add half of the milk. Repeat the process with the remaining flour mixture and milk. Gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 12-14 minutes. Cool completely.

To make the buttercream, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add half of the confectioners’ sugar and all of the lemon juice, heavy cream, zest and salt. Combine on low speed. Add the remaining confectioners’ sugar and combine on low speed. Increase the mixer to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes.

To assemble the cupcakes, use a wooden skewer to poke 6-8 holes in each cupcake. Drizzle a teaspoon of lilac syrup over each one. Frost with the lemon buttercream and garnish with the candied lilac flowers.


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