Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Herbs to Sustain You

Warm, sunny days have me busy in the garden, despite an unfairly timed bout of wrist arthritis. The blossom is glorious, although worryingly quiet from an absence of bees, the wisteria running along the back of the house about to unfurl. The first crops of vegetables are planted and growing. The lawn is cut, the fruit trees feed, just the ever present and never finished chore of weeding remains of which I do less each year through either turning a blind eye to certain areas or mulching. (Good for wildlife is my mantra!)

I hate supermarket shopping. I will avoid it at any cost and the cost to my family is they must eat herbs, lots of herbs. The strategy works like this, buy dry grocery basics like beans, flour, rice, pasta, nuts and vegetables, if they are not available in the garden, like potatoes, onions, roots etc with a long shelf-life. (I think the reason I started to grow my own vegetables was to avoid going to the supermarket, that may sound lazy, but I reckon for every hour I would have to shop, I work five or six in the garden/allotment, which illustrates just how much I loath the supermarket run.) For lunch I make soup daily, this is usually one or more from each group above and a bunch of herbs, for example:
Potato and Sorrel Soup
Carrot, Arborio Rice and Chervil Soup
Mint and Split Pea Soup
Celery, Par-Cel and Lovage Soup.

It’s the same story for the evening meal.
Pasta with Parsley, Walnuts and Wild Garlic
Gnocchi with Lemon, Pine Nut and Rocket Pesto
Onion and Rosemary Pizza
Italian Bean Salad with Thyme and Winter Savory
Sage or Borage Fritters
To mention a few, there are just some many herby goodies.

All served with our trusty salad leaves that have taken us through the winter without resorting to the plastic bags of the mixed salad of indistinguishable flavours on the supermarket shelves. For drinks, I make cordials when the opportunity presents itself. Elderflower, autumn raspberry and apple juices and teabags made from herbs, mint and fennel, lemon balm and lemon verbena. I like to grow lots of different flavoured mints, amongst the favourites are black peppermint, ginger mint, berries and cream mint (wow, I know, find it at Jekka Seeds), lime mint, and apple mint but I am continually finding new and exciting varieties that make wonderful hot and cold drinks.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple, a good bouillon or stock is needed for the soup base, Parmesan for the pasta and gnocchi and sugar to make cordials, but you get the gist, and we do eat meat, eggs, citrus fruit, olive oil and many other good things that I can’t walk out into the garden to gather. But at this time of year I like to challenge myself against an empty fridge and eat from nature’s bountiful larder.
So here are a few snaps from the garden pantry plus a general glimpse at what’s flowering now.

Nettles collected at the allotment make a great soup (with leek and Arborio rice) when the tips are picked young.

Sorrel, in a yet to be weeded part of the potagerie.

An embarrassment of chervil, large bunch to all callers!

Making mint tea and the bags I buy, expensive but great for homemade bouquet garnis as well as herb teas.

Pear tree in blossom and a close up of apple blossom.

Viola sororia 'Freckles'.

Clematis armandii now fading.

Wisteria photographed last year about a week from now.
Finally, Geoff Hamilton (1936-1996), known to us here in the UK from his gardening programs, loved by many and irritating some, had a gentle humour that I think is shown by this lovely quote "Seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all ... it's optimism".


Magic Cochin said...

What a lovely post! It made me hungry reading your lunch and supper menus.

I think Lovage is one of my favourite herbs. I love the way it appears from nowhere with those crimson shoots and then in no time it's HUGE!!!!

Chopped sorrel stirred into scrambled eggs as they cook and served on toast is my lunch time treat mmmmmmm!


Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Hi Fay

Sorry to hear about your wrist.

I love this. There's a serious committment to NOT going to the supermarket happening here, ha.

I like the fact you use nettles and the like. Do you eat Dandelion? As I'm sure you're aware, Pissenlit is popular over here.

Ah mint Tea, reminds me of Marrakech, I have occasional phases of getting practically addicted to it during the summer.


Phoenix C. said...

I used to grow herbs, because I like gardening - but I never really used them because I avoid cooking with the same commitment you have to avoiding supermarket shopping!!!

Chervil - I haven't seen that for ages! I seem to remember an aniseedy sort of taste.

I love your spotted viola.

Woodland Fay said...

Hi everyone, a quick thanks to all for your continued support.

Magic Cochin - lovage, yes, absolutely! And as for your sorrel and eggs suggestion, Saturday morning with the papers and maybe a slice or two of organic smoked salmon on the side, course that means a visit to the supermarket! Rats!

Rob - Marrakech, sadly never been, got close this year, but in the end the recession ate the trip! Had a memorable wilted sorrel and grilled goat's cheese entrée once in Salies-de-Bearn, just one course of the best meal of my life. Pissenlit to bitter for my less sophisticated english palette!

Phoenix C. Chervil, yes I'm addited to all things anis, goes well with fish, eggs, carrots and just about everything at the moment, got to get through it all somehow, not the type of herb that freezes well. Did somebody mention cocktails? Thanks from Freckles!

Off for a well earned Bloody Mary with a pinch of lovage seed, celery seed, fennel seed, and aniseed salt. Must blog my perfect BM recipe sometime, but as a spoiler, it includes a splash of good red wine instead of the sherry idea.
Ps maybe, my Bull Shot recipe, also?

Woodland Fay said...

Also addicted to exclamation marks, sorry.......!...

Red Clover said...

I loved this post. Adored actually. I will be growing herbs for the first time this year, and I wouldn't mind you expounding on a couple of those recipes. I hate shopping too, luckily my husband does it most of the time. Smiles. I'm trying to get into cooking more, and learning herbs is appealing to me. Thanks for your thoughts!

Woodland Fay said...

Red Clover for you, Herb and Walnut Sauce Blog, enjoy and thanks for your comment see how you spur me on!

Emily Hunter said...

I don't know what makes me weep more, this post re: gardening, or your enviable pics from Paris. Gorgeous, gorgeous stories and imagery throughout. Very inspirational, to say the least.