Monday, June 17, 2013

Lilacs Lilacs Lilacs

I love lilacs.  A lot of people that I know love lilacs.  I think it's hard not to.  They are purple, which is one of my 8 favorite colors.  They smell divine.  And when they appear on their bushes, you know that summer is on its' way.


My personal love of lilacs may slightly have been influenced by the town that I grew up in: Lombard, Illinois. Otherwise known as the Lilac Village.  And let me tell you, they are very VERY serious about lilacs.  Hardcore.  I'm talking a Lilac Ball, a Lilac Queen crowned, and even a Lilac Parade.  It sounds like something you'd find in a quaint country town...and it feels like it too...but it's smack dab in the middle of the suburbs of Chicago.


Any Lombardian (yes, that's what they call us) knows that the best spring pictures are taken at Lilacia Park, eight and a half acres filled with lilacs, tulips, daffodils, and more.  For about a week on most years, you'll find the sweet spot, when all of them are in some sort of bloom.  It's gorgeous, and it smells like heaven.  I usually let my kids bring their kiddie cameras and snap away.  Some of the shots they get are amazing.  I love seeing things from their perspective.




Every year, the Lilac Parade takes place the Sunday after Mother's Day.  And it kicks it up a notch.  I mean, they even spray Main Street with lilac scent, so as you're sitting there watching the parade, you have a constant aromatic boost of lilac spirit.  The parade itself is always great.  My husband, who is also from the 'burbs, but not Lombard, was shocked the first year I brought him to the Lilac parade.  It goes on for well over an hour, and there are cars and bands and bagpipes and giant shopping carts and Shriners and clowns...it's fantastic!  Oh, and you know how in some parades, all the floats throw out candy?  None of that here.  Instead, people in the parade have washable markers, and they paint your faces and arms as they walk by.  When I was a kid, it was actual facepaint, but I'm guessing that there's some liability or something that made that stop.  The markers are still a lot of fun.  My kids and I were covered by the end of the parade.


Anyhow, all this lilacian spirit, combined with my new-found love of eating everything possible from my landscaping, sent me on a mission: lilac jelly!

Unfortunately, this spring has been very wet and stormy.  Which, don't get me wrong, is great for the plants, but makes it hard to harvest lilacs.  But the time I had a dry day to go out and grab some from my Miss Kim lilac outside our house, it looked like this:


Sparse, to say the least.  But I'm nothing if not stubborn, so I set about picking off every viable blossom off of the lilac bush.  I ended up with about 2 cups.


Then I followed pretty much the same process as I used to make jelly with dandelions.  Poured boiling water over it and seeped it overnight.


 Strained it.


The color was a little darker than the dandelion jelly, and the scent was a whole different ballgame.  I love herbal and floral sweets, like jellies or ice cream, so I was getting pretty stoked about the jelly at this point.

I brought the lilac "tea" to a boil with plenty of sugar and some lemon juice, but this time I used a package of liquid pectin instead of the powered pectin, just to try it.  After boiling it down, jarring it, and processing it in a water bath, it seemed like the jelly was super loose, but it firmed up more as it cooled and set.


The flavor, to me, is great.  Delicate and unique, kind of like lilacs themselves.  Not as honey-ish as the dandelion jelly, but still a slightly floral sweet.  And it makes me smile to think that this coming winter, on the cold, dark days, I can spread a little taste of spring, a little taste of home, on my toast or biscuits.