Local legend has it that the first lilac bush was planted at a homestead near Hillyard after traveling by trunk from Minnesota in 1882.
Another story puts the city’s first lilacs in the yard of J.J. Browne, a lawyer and developer who planted them in 1906.
Whichever the case may be, civic leaders started promoting Spokane as the Lilac City. And this spring, those tiny fragrant purple and white springtime petals inspired Chef Bob Rogers, executive chef at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, to make his own lilac ice cream.
He experimented in May, cutting big clusters of lilac blossoms early in the morning, getting them wet, then shaking off the excess water and trimming the stems.
He used lilacs that are “the in-between color. Not white but also not very dark.”
Steeping the light purple petals didn’t add any color to the ice cream, so Rogers used some natural food coloring. Next time, he said he’ll try flowers with darker blossoms and, hopefully, skip the coloring.
He was careful not to add too much sugar.
“I didn’t make it too sweet because the lilac (flavor) was very subtle,” he said. The result was “floral” and “quite delicious.”
“It really just tastes like springtime.”
As he sees it, the only difficulty is the very short window of opportunity. Lilacs usually bloom in May.
“I will look forward to next year when I can pick more,” said Rogers, who’s already planning to “try to make my own lilac concentrate of some sort.”
Chef Bob’s Lilac Ice Cream
From Chef Bob Rogers of Northern Quest Resort & Casino
1 quart whole milk
1 quart heavy cream
8 cups lilac blossoms, stems removed
12 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
1 to 1 1/3 cup sugar
Natural food coloring (until desired color)
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine milk and cream. Add petals. Heat slowly until right before boiling, then remove from heat, cover saucepan and let steep for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and whole eggs.
Strain the milk and cream mixture, removing blossoms. Temper the eggs by whisking in a couple of tablespoons of the strained milk and cream mixture. Then add all of the milk and cream mixture to the eggs, stir in sugar.
Cook the custard over a simmering water bath until it begins to thicken. Once it thickens, add coloring, if desired, then cool it completely in an ice bath. Transfer to an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions.
Yield: More than 2 quarts