Ever since I was a child, the nighttime rains of May always meant one thing: dewy, luscious, lilac scented air come the dawn. I grew up in Lombard, Illinois: self-proclaimed Lilac Capitol of the World. I thought everyone lived in lilac heaven. I would ride my bike around my neighborhood, gathering armfuls of cascading purple blossoms, crooked branches and heart-shaped leaves. I wished I could capture the beautiful essence of the raindrops falling off the petals, scented ever so delicately. I’d collect the dew in teacups, offering some to my pretend friends: unicorns, the bunnies living under the porch, the cat, nonplussed, sitting on the patio.
Fast forward a few decades– I live in Chicago, I rarely ride my bike, I never gather lilacs anymore (though I do head out and enjoy the essence of spring in the air!) But I’m still enchanted by lilacs after the rain. Delicate but heady, gorgeous petals dripping raindrops – refreshing, enervating, beautiful, they always make me feel fresh, bright and delightful.
This last weekend was full season for the flowers in my area. I found some lilacs blooming in my brothers yard, purple clusters cascading down the fence, a 10-foot tall bush sending out plumes to the sky. Now, I’ve tasted elderflower liqueur, and hibiscus syrup, and rose essence – and as I was standing there, practically tasting the scent of those lilacs in my mouth, it occurred to me: well, it’s just another flower, right?
I quickly checked Google and my Edible Flowers handbook – no evidence of lilac toxicity. I rapidly snipped a few branches, and sallied forth into the kitchen to create a lilac syrup. You could use it in a soda for an Italian style nonalcoholic beverage, but I had bigger plans. I wanted to pair the floral notes of lilac with a well tuned gin, and behold……. Ephemeral heaven. The dew is dried before you even clean the stems, and all you have left is the memory of spring, a lovely purple elixir bottled gorgeously on your counter.
Lilac simple syrup recipe
A simple syrup is essentially one part sugar to two parts water; I used 1 cup organic sugar to 2 cups filtered water. In a saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Keep the heat at its lowest setting and add 1-2 cups plucked lilac flowers, and about 5 blueberries (for color). I recommend removing as much of the stem as possible from the flowers – the more stems, the greener the color of the syrup.
Store in a jar in your fridge. Probably not more than a month or so, but hey – you decide.
Spring Whisper Lilac Cocktail recipe
- 2oz part good gin – Try something special like Deaths Door, Hendricks, BlackFriars. We live in a renaissance of gin. Take advantage of that.
- 2oz Lilac simple syrup (see above recipe)
- 1oz fresh lemon juice (I haven’t experimented yet but I bet Yuzu and meyer lemon are phenomenal options)
- Soda water
In a shaker, mason jar, etc – vigorously shake the gin, syrup, lemon juice with about 8 cubes ice. Pour it all into a lovely glass that makes you happy to be alive. Top it off with some soda water. If you happen to be in lilac season, sprinkle some lilac blossoms over your glass. Admire the glorious soft pink tint the cocktail takes on. Let the sunset pour through that glass and illuminate it a bit more. Sit back, sip and enjoy!