Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Many people think of herbs as a collection of about five plants in the kitchen garden, occasionally used in a sauce or stuffing – mint, thyme, parsley, chives and sage.
The first sentence of Herbs in New Zealand by Heather Skelton (1980)
parsley, sage, rosemary and lemon thyme
I’m not that blinkered, but I do confess that in the past I’ve been guilty of treating the herbs scattered here and there in June’s several garden areas as if they’re no more than an occasional pleasant addition to an already satisfying meal. So, I’d like to make amends and tell anyone who cares to listen that home-grown herbs are an essential ingredient in many of our meals and always improve the aroma and flavour of the dish.
A few days ago I made enough fish pie to last us a couple of evening meals and embellished it, as always, with a very generous sprinkling of fresh parsley. The week before that my spaghetti bolognese (again enough for two nights), had basil in the cup of home-made tomato puree I used, three bay leaves added to the sauce, and a final flourish of fresh young celery leaves on top. The tomato and pumpkin soup June provided for our lunch when we were in Timaru two weeks ago had basil in it and coriander leaves sprinkled on top.
All herbs that we dry are taken to the living room and hung from the clothes rack that’s suspended at ceiling height just to the left of the woodstove. It’s easy to make a tasty stuffing from freshly harvested sage and breadcrumbs from June’s home-made bread. But when you need a whole lot of herbs at once, the convenience and time-saving of reaching for the jar of dried mixed herbs wins out every time over rushing out to the garden to pick parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, tarragon and winter savoury. June’s liver casserole lasted us three nights over the course of a week at the start of the month: two teaspoons of the blended herbs enhancing the liver casserole’s aroma and flavour. And I’ll toss a couple of spoonfuls in a beef stew or cottage pie.
Dried peppermint or lemon balm leaves are on offer when we have guests, but I’m not a fan of those teas and June seldom bothers with them. But she does bother with an infusion of dried red clover flowers – her regular after lunch tea drink. (See Red Clover Tea.)
Fresh rosemary and common mint complement roast lamb and go just as well with one of our goat kid leg roasts. I use a knife to open up small pockets in the flesh and insert one garlic clove and a sprig of rosemary in each pocket. To the chopped mint leaves I add a pinch of sugar and a splash of boiling water and leave to infuse for a few minutes before adding malt vinegar: a mint sauce to go over the pan gravy that you’ve already poured over the carved meat and roast vegetables on your plate.
On the rare occasions that we buy fish fillets, I’ll smear them with butter and sprinkle them with lemon thyme and a little salt before sealing them in tin foil and baking in the oven. Imparting a mere hint of lemon to the taste buds, the thyme complements rather than swamps the delicate flavours of the fish. A long while back, friends gave us a huge bag of frozen red cod – I’ve never used so much lemon thyme before or since!
We have a big patch of chives in the raised bed outside the back door. We’ll use them in salads or cut up and sprinkled on an omelette before it’s folded in half and served.
A big bunch of lavender, picked on a sunny day in spring, is left to dry and suffuse the air in the living room with its fragrance; the sachet of dried lavender flowers on our bedhead is an aid, June says, to relaxation and sleep.
We’ve got numerous other herbs in the garden but seldom, if ever, pick any of them. Sorrel, horse radish and blue borage come to mind. June did make a sauce once from the horse radish roots, but it’s the small jar of horse radish sauce bought from the supermarket that gets put on the table to accompany roast beef. We have used sorrel, if rarely, in salads. And we do occasionally use borage flowers in a salad – that touch of blue in a dainty flower is in itself enticing.
“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” imparted a lovely cadence and invitation to rhyme to the Simon and Garfunkel song of the same name. And historically, these four herbs were said to have quite an influence on a person’s emotions. I, for one, can say that I’ve given a boost to my warm, fuzzy feelings about herbs now that I’ve paid a bit more attention to them. Long may it last!