When I was in middle school, my Mom bought The Summer Book, a collection of essays, illustrations, recipes, and quotes by Susan Branch. This was one of my favorite books when I was a child. I pored over this book every year in the winter, longing for summer. I was a definite summer child. I was never ready to go back to school. I wanted to live in a land of eternal gardens, meadowlarks, free days, and late sunsets.
No matter what time of year I found myself in, I went to the summer book to dream about those carefree days. I fell in love with herbs through this book. She has beautiful watercolors of all kinds of herbs, plans for herb gardens, and dishes featuring herbs that are positively magical. I made herb vinegars, drew informational posters on herbs, and used them in breads for 4-H projects.
Now that I’m an adult, there is something about the shift of seasons that I love. I don’t find myself yearning to cling to summer in the same way. Time seems to pass faster, but the days seem sweeter. The cool, crisp days of fall feel and smell amazing. They remind us of the inevitable flourishing, short beauty of life. Winter’s chill and clear, starry sky brings mugs of hot chocolate, Christmas trees, and a time for hibernation and reflection. And Spring always renews its promise to return and bring life back to the frozen earth, giving way into the fruit of long summer days and the bounty of the earth.
But one thing hasn’t changed – my fascination with herbs. I usually start some from seed each year, and I also buy whatever unique varieties I can find in my local nurseries.
At this time of year, I have to say goodbye to the perennial herbs that are planted in the ground and decide what I have room to bring in for the winter. I usually set at least five or six plants inside my back patio door in the winter, and as long as I keep them watered, they do pretty well for at least a few months. You could keep them alive for a long time with regular maintenance. Sage & thyme seem to do the best indoors. Basil doesn’t do well (I never try to bring it in anymore).
Here is most of this year’s roundup:
Pineapple sage: tasty with pork chops, in savory salads, in flavored water, and in cocktails. (Picture a little pineapple simple syrup, some frozen hunks of pineapple, vodka, club soda, all muddled with pineapple sage?!) To be honest, I like to pick this one and eat it straight. That’s when the pineapple flavor & scent is strongest.
Tricolor sage, Purple sage, and Common sage: all very tasty in savory dishes, fried in browned butter and added to bread dough, in browned butter sauce with tortellini, and fantastic with pork, winter squash, and as an intensifier for Art in the Age’s Sage liqueur.
Hot & Spicy Oregano: this one is fabulous in tomato dishes, especially with Italian and Mexican flavors. If you ever get a chance to eat it straight, you’ll see that it lives up to its name!
Greek columnar basil, lemon basil, thai basil, and sweet basil: all a little different (the lemon & thai aren’t pictured) but they are all stars in basically anything you put them in. I put them on sandwiches, in fresh pesto, with any tomato dish, on homemade pizza margherita, in basically any asian food, and in cocktails. It is also good with watermelon & strawberries with a hint of lemon zest. The Greek columnar variety is great, because it never bolts, it just keeps growing upward. Basil is probably my favorite herb.
Winter savory: A new favorite! I tend to use this one very much like thyme. I put it in savory salads, pasta sauces, and cocktails – basically anything you can imagine. I’d really like to try baking this one into a savory quick bread.
Garlic chives: I think chives are the biggest stars in mashed potatoes & in condiments, salads, and dressings.
Rosemary: One of my top three favorite herbs. I love rosemary with steak. (Chop up a liberal amount of garlic, salt the heck out of your steaks, and coat them in garlic and rosemary and let them sit at room temp for several hours. The salt will suck moisture out of the steak, then if it sits long enough, the moisture sinks back in, carrying the flavors of the garlic and rosemary into the meat….YUM!) My other favorite use for rosemary is making a simple syrup with it. One cup sugar, one cup of water, and 3-4 sprigs of rosemary, boiled until the sugar dissolves, and you have an amazing simple syrup to enjoy with a variety of hard liquors. (Or even added to a virgin cocktail!) My favorite is a vodka lemon cocktail with the simple syrup.
German thyme & Lemon thyme: Thyme is so versatile. I think it is great with any kind of meat, in quiches and on bruschetta, and per usual, in cocktails. Noticing a theme here? Herbs are awesome in cocktails, iced tea, and water.
Apple mint & chocolate mint: Also amazing in water with cucumber & cocktails, we use a lot of mint for making our own tzatsiki sauce. We eat a lot of falafel, and it just isn’t the same without a good tzatsiki.
I am considering drying some of these herbs and making my own mixes this year, but we’ll see. Do any of you have experiences with drying herbs? Are there any special tips and tricks? 🙂
Thanks for reading, and Happy Friday, wonderful friends!