For a brief time every June, Alaska residents can count on the lilacs to show up. Their perfume wafts through on the early summer breeze, their abundant tanzanite-colored blossoms reaching up toward the sun. I have a large lilac bush outside my dining room window that is in full bloom.
Although lilacs are loved for their fragrance and beauty, they are notorious for wilting when cut, often making them a poor choice for a floral arrangement. Instead, consider making a homemade batch of lilac syrup that will last weeks in the refrigerator and will preserve the lilac's floral notes long after the flowers are gone.
I went out to the front yard and gathered up a small colander full of lilacs. I pulled the blossoms by the handful from their stems. Then, I gave them a good spray in the sink with cold water to ensure that they were clean of any dirt or bugs. When they were rinsed and drained, I added them to a bowl with a small fistful of blackberries. Then, I simmered a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan on the stove. When it was dissolved, I poured it over the flowers and berries and allowed it to steep for two hours on the countertop. As soon as the hot syrup hits the blossoms, you can smell the floral notes in the steam as they begin to wilt.
After a good long steep, I strained the flowers and berries through a fine mesh sieve, pressing them down with a wooden spoon to release all of their color and flavor. The result was a magical syrup with an amethyst hue, sweetly and subtly smelling of lilacs.
I like to use my syrup to make a beautiful, botanical lilac gin and tonic. I used Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic and Aviation Gin, both of which I recommend, along with a bright squeeze of lemon. Finally, I float some fresh lilac blossoms on top of the cocktail so that the fragrance of lilacs is the first sensation upon picking up the glass.
Lilac gin and tonic
For the lilac syrup:
2 cups lilac blossoms, well rinsed, green stems removed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
For the gin and tonic:
2 ounces gin
Juice of half a lemon
4 ounces tonic water
1 ounce lilac syrup (or sweetened to taste)
Fresh lilac blossoms
Rinse the lilac blossoms thoroughly and remove all green stems. To a saucepan over medium heat, add the sugar and water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring it up to a simmer and cook 2 minutes. Add the lilac blossoms and blackberries to a bowl. Pour the hot simple syrup over the lilacs and blackberries. Press the blossoms down with a spoon to submerge. Set the bowl aside on the counter and allow to steep at least two hours. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing firmly on the lilacs and blackberries to release all of the flavor and color as you strain. Cover the syrup and refrigerate until ready to use. Will make several cocktails.
To make a lilac gin and tonic:
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add 2 ounces gin. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Pour 4 ounces tonic water over top. Finish with 1 ounce lilac syrup (or sweetened to taste). Give the cocktail a quick stir before serving. Float a few fresh lilac blossoms on top of the cocktail.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.