A Sweet Experiment

Spring 2012 was quite a contrast from our current season. If you recall, we had a very mild winter and a warm spring came early that year. Spring fever hit hard, gardens were planted early, and the vegetation seemed to be impatient to burst through the ground to enjoy the rays of sunshine. I remember that spring very well because that was the season I began working here at the Shiloh Museum.

Redbud and Lilac Jellies

Jellies made from the blossoms of redbud (left) and lilac.

One of the many advantages of working at the museum is the opportunity to take a lunchtime walk around our beautiful grounds that Marty Powers so meticulously oversees. I love to be outside and this museum has a beautiful setting to enjoy. An inviting view from my office window is the redbud tree that adorns our front entrance.

The redbud trees were loaded with vivid scarlet blossoms that spring of 2012. At that time I learned from our photographer, Don House, that redbud blossoms are edible. Many people use redbud blossoms as a salad food. Through a little research I discovered the redbud tree is a member of the Fabaceae family—the legume family—which includes peas and beans. (The pods on the redbud tree resemble pea pods.) The two most popular varieties of this tree are the eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis), also known as the American redbud tree and grown east of the Rocky Mountains, and the western redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis). The round, heart shape of the leaf makes the tree easy to identify. Did you know the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked? A word of caution, though: always be sure you have properly identified something before consuming it.

In 2012 one conversation led to another with museum staff members and it was suggested I make redbud jelly. Let me correct that statement and say I should try to make redbud jelly. Truth is I had never made a jar of jelly before so, to me, this was going to be an adventurous experiment and I must admit one that I enthusiastically embraced. Marty harvested a bagful of blossoms for me and I proceeded with a recipe I found on the Internet. The recipe called for pouring boiling water over the blossoms and, interestingly, there was a pea-like aroma released from the blossoms. Much to my surprise, the jelly resulted in a beautiful rose color and yielded a delightful, light taste, but nothing that resembled peas. The taste met the staff’s approval as well. We even posted our results on the Shiloh Museum’s Facebook page.

Last spring was a very hectic time for me and I missed the opportunity to try the jelly again. I was determined not to let that happen this year. Once again, Marty readily agreed to collect the blossoms and I began researching the redbud jelly recipes to see if there was anything new to try. It was during this searching I discovered a blogger from Northwest Arkansas who had discovered a redbud story on her local museum’s Facebook page, found an Internet recipe, and made some redbud jelly. Since the museum wasn’t referenced, I can’t be sure it was our Facebook page, but I did make that assumption.

Kathy serves the fruits of her labor: lilac cream cheese, lilac lemonade, redbud blossom muffins, and lilac blossom muffins.

Kathy serves the fruits of her labor: lilac cream cheese, lilac lemonade, redbud blossom muffins, and lilac blossom muffins.

I learned there are different dishes to make using redbud blossoms and I decided to try a new recipe, this one for redbud blossom muffins. As I continued to survey the recipes, I ran across a recipe for lilac jelly. The museum has an abundance of beautiful, fragrant lilac bushes on the grounds. Marty agreed it would be another occasion to try something new so I turned his harvested bag of lilac blossoms into jelly, lilac muffins, lilac cream cheese spread, and lilac syrup that I used to sweeten lemonade. Lilac jelly does not retain the color of the blossoms but turns a golden color instead.

What’s next? Well, we sell herb cookbooks in our museum gift shop and I recently discovered a recipe in one of those books for lavender cookies. I believe we grow lavender on our grounds. Hmm…uh, Marty? When will the lavender be ready to harvest?

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