Tuesday, February 28, 2012
House herb mix
I love herbs, I love growing them, picking them, smelling them, and cooking with them. I use a "house herb mix" a lot, especially when I am lazy. I can't give you a precise recipe. I grow two or three of every kind of herb they sell at Mother Earth Gardens. I have an herb garden right outside my kitchen door, and I put a ring of herbs around the edge of my vegetable garden with marigolds every year. I use fresh herbs and marigold petals in pretty much everything I eat all summer long. I make a cup of sage tea most mornings in the summer, it's supposed to be good for the nerves, digestion, it's anti-inflammatory, the claims are many. But mostly, it tastes nice to me, I have always loved sage. It makes my tummy feel good. It's a habit I picked up from my Finnish/German host mother, another wonderful cook in my life. She is the one who started me adding marigold petals to everything. People make many claims about the health properties of marigold, but mostly it's really pretty and feels fancy to have edible flowers in your food. I love to munch on parsley stems and fresh mint leaves, and lemon balm whenever I am outside.
The best moment of spring is the first day I can pinch a few chives, a leaf or two of lovage, and some sorrel. I don't especially like lovage, it's a strong celery/soap taste, but I love it in the spring when it is the first fresh green thing peeking up in my yard. Sorrel is my best friend, I use it as an herb, a salad, I make soup with it. I have 8 separate sorrel patches in my yard, and will probably divide and make more. It's like the perfect combination of lemon and spinach. I eat it every day from April to October, but I never dry it, what's the point? A quick breakfast garnish of sorrel, marigold petals, chives, and a drizzle of olive oil goes with pretty much everything, from eggs, to tomatoes, to grated zucchini. I wish there were more perennial herbs that grew in Minnesota, because rhubarb, and chives, sorrel, and lovage are hardly enough. Technically sage, thyme, and parsley can over-winter here, but they never do well the second year unless we get an early deep snow that lasts till April, so I usually plant fresh seedlings of them each year.
When I harvest and dry herbs in the fall I hang them in small bunches in a shady part of the house until they are dry, or lay them on a screen on top of bricks I set on my dining room table. Sometimes I use a dehydrator, for chives, rosemary, and parsley. When they are all dry I pull the leaves off the stems and pack the herbs into clear glass jars and organize them in my spice drawer, throwing away any leftovers from the year before, or store-bought herbs I have accumulated during the winter. But I don't always harvest one jars worth of any given herb. I usually have more, so the extras go into a big bowl, all together, with some sea salt, and hot pepper flakes. Sometimes with some ground dehydrated lemon or orange peel, or store bought lavender flowers. When all the herbs are processed and packed away I mix up the leftovers and portion it into as many jars as I need. You know what I run out of first every year? The several jars of mixed herbs.
This year my mix had, in no particular order: chives, parsley, basil, lovage, oregano, epazote, sage, lot's of thyme, marjoram, red pepper flakes, lemon thyme, savory, rosemary - though not much, some marigold petals, some ill considered dried habanero pepper flakes (never again,) and some celtic gray salt. A very few caraway seeds - I don't know why they never do well here, and some dill seeds from the year before, which I didn't even plant this year because I had so many still. I had a separate mix of lavender leaves, lemon balm, cat nip, bergamot or bee balm, and several varieties of mint that I use for tea. And an extra jar of thyme mixed with sage for infusing into honey when someone has a cough - mostly because I like to plant every variety of thyme and sage, and there are many!
I think a simple go-to herb mix is a good way to start using more herbs. Buy fresh "poultry herbs" at the store next time you are cooking chicken, and dry the leftovers and put them in a jar. Next time you buy hot peppers buy a few extra and dehydrate the rest in your oven on it's lowest setting with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. And next summer, fill every old clay pot you can find at garage sales with potting soil and herbs seedlings from the garden store. Put them on the edge of your patio, or even in a sunny window and water them lightly every morning. You will have fresh herbs all summer and in the fall you can make your own house herb mix.