by David Cecelski
I have lived here all my life, but I never cease to be amazed by what I discover as I travel across the state. Today I happened upon the
Duke Farmers Market, a lunchtime market for the employees and patients at Duke Hospital in Durham. Everything there looked
inviting, but what really surprised me was Sunshine Lavender Farm’s booth. I had never heard of such a thing this side of Provence. But in Hurdle Mills, in Person County, an herb grower named Annie Baggett and her husband and two girls have turned an old dairy farm into what must become the loveliest place in the county every June, when the lavender fields are all abloom.
Lavender is a common ingredient in perfumes, lotions, and bouquets, of course, and Sunshine Lavender Farm sells all sorts of those concoctions. They also sell half a dozen varieties of lavender plants. But lavender is also one of those very simple kitchen ingredients that subtly transform ordinary foods into something really extraordinary.
Annie Baggett sells culinary lavender and the farm’s websitefeatures more than a dozen wonderful-sounding lavender recipes, including ones for lemon lavender butter cookies, lavender lemonade, and vanilla lavender ice cream. I had a glass of her lavender lemonade at the farmers market today and it was wonderful.
There’s also a recipe for chocolate lavender truffles on the farm’s website that sounds deliriously good. Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Sunshine Lavender Farm:
Chocolate Lavender Truffles
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried lavender florets
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
Grate chocolate. Bring cream and lavender to a simmer for one minute, then strain. Add cream to chocolate and stir to melt. Mix well. Chill at least 3 hours. Roll into – inch balls, then roll in cocoa. Makes 25 truffles.
The collapse of the farm economy that I knew as a child has not been pretty. That society of mostly small landholders, tobacco farming, and tenancy is now long gone. In all too many cases, the rise of a more industrial agriculture and a global market place has dispossessed families of their land, uprooted rural people, and cast them out of the only way of life that they have ever known and out of the only places that will ever feel like home to them. Many of them—many of us—now seem adrift and lost.
The only silver lining—and, eventually, we have to find silver linings in that gut-wrenching transformation of rural life—is that now, when we drive around the state’s back roads and make our pilgrimages home, we never know what will be around the next bend in the road. Once we knew: it would be a tobacco farm or, in a place like Hurdle Mills, perhaps a dairy farm or a textile mill. Now it could be anything.
A new generation of farmers, some of whom come from old farm families, others not, have been re-discovering the American rural entrepreneurial spirit. They are being creative, inventive, and clever, while, of course—like all farmers, in all times—busting their butts. The result is a source of delight to the likes of me. Now, when I’m traveling in rural parts, I never know what I will find around the next bend in the road. It could be anything: a wild mushroom farm, a pick-your-own-blackberries field, greenhouses full of cut flowers, a goat cheese maker, or a hundred other things. It could even be something as wondrous as fields and fields of lavender.
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For the location, hours and days of operation for the Duke Farmers Market, check out www.hr.duke.edu/farmersmarket. The market is open every Friday from 11 AM to 2 PM until June 27th, and then every other Friday, same hours, until the 27th of September. Sunshine Lavender Farm also sells its wares some Saturday mornings at the Hillsborough Farmers Market and other Saturday mornings at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. Check sunshinelavenderfarm.com.
photos by David Cecelski