Putting a spoonful or two over vanilla ice cream makes a really excellent sundae (I used Trader Joe’s Super Premium French Vanilla), but there are a couple of ways you can make it even better. The first is to sprinkle on a little bit of dried lavender, an herb that has been popular in Mediterranean cuisine for centuries. The idea of adding it to the honey nut sundae was inspired by a perusal of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s The Flavor Bible, a favorite book I have raved about before. Their entry on lavender lists both ice cream and honey among the pairings in bold capital letters, a designation reserved for the best flavor matches. They also list almonds, pistachios, and walnuts as good matches, and under their entry on “nuts – in general” (page 234), they give the following quote from Jerry Traunfeld with The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington:
“Lavender works well with all sorts of nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and walnuts. The one nut it doesn’t work well with is chestnuts.”
An important caution is not to use too much: as Jill Norman notes in her book, Herbs and Spices (DK Publishing, 2002), “Lavender is very potent and must be used sparingly.” I sprinkled a few dried lavender flowers on our honey nut sundaes and the result was delicious. Norman notes that if you grind the flowers together with sugar, you get a stronger flavor since the process extracts the oil from the flowers, which is absorbed into the sugar.
We obtained our lavender flowers from a friend (thanks, designwrite), which is the way chef Paul Gayler recommends obtaining them – i.e., in the wild or from your garden – in his book Flavors (Kyle Books, 2005). He also notes that if you purchase lavender flowers at a market, they have sometimes been treated with pesticides or fragrance enhancers since lavender is a popular ingredient in custom-made soaps; if you are not sure whether this is the case or not, Gayler recommends washing the flowers thoroughly before use. Lavender packaged especially for culinary uses is available from a number of different sources, including Penzeys Spices (http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyslavender.html) and Amazon (search their Grocery & Gourmet Food Department with the keyword "lavender"). In fact, Amazon offers lavender in a variety of different forms: as 8 oz. packages of culinary lavender, as lavender syrup, lavender sugar sparkles, lavender honey, lavender extract, and various lavender teas.
The second variation on the honey nut sundae – with or without lavender – that can make it even better is to serve it with a nut-derived liqueur. One that goes especially well with a lavender honey-nut sundae is Faretti, described on the label as essentially a liquid biscotti whose “delicately layered taste … combines hints of nuts, citrus and fennel in a symphony of flavor.” That was the first accompaniment we tried, but the sundae went about equally well with Nocello walnut liqueur and the almond-based Amaretto di Saronno. Another good choice should be the hazelnut liqueur Frangelico, but we haven’t had a chance to try that combination yet. Finally, a really intriguing possibility is the pistachio liqueur Dumante, but our favorite supplier of spirits had just sold their last bottle when we went to inquire about it.