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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Picture of Erin Aguiar

Erin Aguiar

Horticulture Director

In 1900, L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This classic tells the story of a young girl, Dorothy, entering a strange magical world where she must rely on the help of her friends to find her way back home. As Dorothy follows the yellow brick road to find the powerful Wizard of Oz, The Wicked Witch of the West tricks Dorothy and leads her into a magical field of poppies. Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are induced into a deep slumber from the magical poppies. Baum used dramatic license when he employed opium poppies in his storyline, however in reality, just the proximity, or the smell, of the potent plant has no drug effect. Although the Papaver somniferum flower does conjure thoughts of the infamous opium poppy, it can also bring the nostalgic homely flavors of poppy seed muffins to mind.

“Papaver orientale,” Oriental poppy

The botanical name somniferum actually translates as “sleep bringer.” Many are surprised to learn that the same plant is responsible for both opium and poppy seeds, however, the selections grown for culinary consumption have very little opioid content. Both endeavors require the flower to fully bloom then form a bulbous pod full of tiny black seeds. At this point one could hypothetically make incisions into the green pod, allowing latex to ooze out, then dry, to render raw opium (in case you are asking for a friend). 

The open flower of the opium poppy starts to show the developing ovary, fruit, seedpod of the flower
“Eschscholzia californica,” California poppy, may have an unfamiliar botanical name but it, too, is part of the poppy family
The large seedpod of “Papaver somniferum” is full of poppy seeds

For those interested in baking with poppies, let the seed pod dry out and harvest the seeds for cooking. The seeds can be ground into a paste, expressed for oil, or simply use the seeds whole. At home, poppy seeds can be used in familiar favorites like lemon poppy seed muffins or traditional strudels of Eastern Europe rolled with poppy seed paste. However, in some countries where poppy in any form is prohibited, like Singapore, possession of a poppy seed muffin could lead to trouble with the law.

Chef de Cuisine Jessica Roy’s Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

Lemon Poppy Bundt Cake – From Chef de Cuisine, Jessica Roy at Sherman Library & Gardens

 Poppies have been a long-standing favorite of mine ever since my childhood. One of my recent obsessions right now is lemon, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to pair them together. This bundt cake can be made a day or two ahead, can be frozen unfrosted for up to two months, and in my opinion is better if you let it sit for a day. Because of this, I think it makes a perfect make ahead no fuss dessert. On a separate note, I recommend pre-measuring all ingredients and letting them come to room temperature before baking. I hope you enjoy this delicious springtime treat.


For the Cake:

3 cups all purpose flour. Spooned in then leveled off.

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. whole milk or buttermilk

3 Tbsp. grated lemon zest

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 sticks (1 c. unsalted butter, I prefer Kerrygold Irish butter always, but any kind will do.)

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil (I prefer Pasolivo, but any good quality will do.)

2 1/4 c. sugar

3 large eggs

4 Tbsp. poppy seeds

For the Syrup:

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. sugar

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

For the Glaze:

2 c. confectioner’s sugar

4 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. poppy seeds


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set your rack in the middle position of your oven.

2. In a medium bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and set aside.

3. In another bowl, stir together the milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and set aside.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about four minutes.

5. Wipe down the sides of the bowl and then beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape the bowl down again.

6. With the mixer on low speed, beat in 1/4 of the flour mixture, then one third of the milk mixture and alternate until both are incorporated. Scrape down the sides and mix again until just incorporated.

7. Thoroughly grease your Bundt pan with nonstick oil and flour being sure to get into all the crevices.

8. Spoon the batter into the pan and bake for 65-75 minutes until the cake is golden brown and the tester comes out clean.

9. Set the cake on a cooling rack. Set your timer for 10 minutes. Take your knife, follow the outline of the pan to release it. Don’t forget the center rim! When timer goes off, invert your cake onto the rack to release it. You may need to give it a little tap for it to release.

10. Let cake cool.

11. In the meantime, to make your sugar syrup combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a small pot. Bring to a boil. While mixture is hot, brush all over the Bundt cake. Don’t rush this step as you want all of the syrup to absorb nicely into the cake.

12. If you are not serving this the same day after the cake completely cools, wrap it nice and snug with plastic wrap. If you want to freeze it for up to two months, now is also the time to do so.

13. To serve, take the confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice and poppy seeds and combine. Pour over lemon cake. Let icing dry and you are ready to serve. To make it look really pretty, I like to zest fresh lemon over the top while icing is still wet and decorate with edible Johnny Jump ups if you have them. (Sherman Gardens lets me pick all the ones I want!)

14. Enjoy with someone you love.