The month of June finds many farmers harvesting early tomatoes, peaches, and sunflowers. Nigel Walker does that, too, but mostly he’s tending to the lavender fields at Eatwell Farm, his small organic farm in California’s Sacramento Valley. Lavender isn’t exactly a commercial crop, and Nigel is used to odd looks from his larger-scale, more conventional neighbors. “‘What the hell is that blue stuff growing in your field and can I take some home to my wife?’ is the usual response,” he laughs.
With the lavender, Nigel and his partner, Chris Paugh, make a fragrant lavender salt that’s a delicious cooking ingredient. “You can use lavender salt in much the same way you’d use thyme or rosemary and salt,” he says.
After many trials with different strains of lavender (“there are hundreds,” he says) and scores of different sea salts, Nigel settled on one lavender variety that he feels is best for cooking: aromatic but not soapy-tasting, flavorful but not overpowering.
Lavender salt is hardly a common ingredient, but it may be catching on. “One evening, I got a call from a frantic customer saying, ‘Help! I’m in LA and I’ve run out of your salt,’” he recalls. “Then I knew I was onto something.