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Tag Archive: herbs

Herbs and Spices 2 – Garlic – Allium Sativum

Number Two – Garlic

Technically Garlic is neither a herb nor a spice but is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion. Garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran and has long been a common seasoning worldwide with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was used by ancient Egyptians and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine.

There are many varieties and they differ in size, pungency and colour. The most widely used European variety has a white/grey papery skin and pinkish-grey cloves and is grown in southern France. The bulbs found on sale are actually dried though we tend to consider them fresh. Garlic is one of the world’s most valued ingredients, synonymous with so many cuisines that most kitchens would be bare without it. Not only does is have an irresistible flavour, it also has amazing healing powers. Consuming just one clove a day will not only top up your body’s supplies of vital vitamins and minerals, but also help maintain a healthy heart and help the body fight off infection. Well, I’m sold on this popular ingredient and intend to grow and cook with it much more in future. I have found an excellent book called  ‘The Goodness Of Garlic’ by Natasha Edwards so I am looking forward to learning more. Natasha Edwards grew up surrounded by garlic on the world renowned garlic farm on the Isle of Wight run by her father, Colin Boswell, and she draws on her own knowledge and experience of cooking, eating and using garlic as a remedy. She is the co-author of The Garlic Farm Cookbook and author of Garlic: The Mighty Bulb.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/natasha-edwards-Books

 

Some varieties of garlic are best planted as sets in autumn to be harvested in early to mid-summer the following year. It’s a crop easy to grow from sets and rising in popularity all the time to use in the kitchen and to grow in vegetable plots. Garlic is propagated by planting cloves or using bulbils. Save some of your crop for planting next season. Propagating garlic using bulbils can be much more effective than planting cloves. There are many more bulbils than cloves, making it easier to build up your planting stock. And since bulbils don’t touch the ground, you have a lower incidence of soil-borne diseases. Plant them just like you would plant cloves

Although the ideal planting time is November you can plant as late as April and at this warmer time of year you could try planting up any spare cloves left over from supermarket bought garlic. Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and plant the largest and healthiest. The wild ancestors of modern day garlic would have originated from the mountainous regions of Asia and are programmed to search deeply for water. Fill a deep pot with seed compost. Plant one clove per pot in an upright position no more than 1½ ” below the soil surface. Water well and place outside in a sunny position out of the way of cold winds. From early June onwards begin feeding with a general purpose plant food every two weeks. The garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August and September depending on weather and variety.Once dried these bulbs should keep in good condition for 3-4 months.

Garlic has many culinary uses. The cloves are separated, peeled and then used whole, chopped or crushed. The easiest way to crush garlic is to place a clove on a board and, using the flat side of a small knife, press down firmly until you have squashed it to a pulp. Sprinkle a little salt on the clove to help the knife grip. Garlic crushers are fine but some say that crushing the garlic this way gives it a bitter taste. The more finely the garlic is crushed the stronger it will taste in the dish but slow oven baking tends to mellow the flavour. By baking the garlic it softens the sharpness of the flavour and brings out it’s sweetness.

You can’t beat the simple flavour of garlic, thyme and salt and pepper on a good quality rib of beef. The juices make a fantastic gravy. Garlic bread is another popular way to use this versatile food.

 

Herbs and Spices 1 – Star Anise – Illicium Verum

I have never used herbs and spices in my cooking and indeed admit to very little knowledge of them apart from the Sage and Onion, Mint Sauce, Salt and Pepper etcetera that are in every British kitchen cupboard. I have recently taken an interest and want to expand my use of them in my cooking. I have decided therefore to do a small series of posts as I think I learn and remember better when I write things down.

Number One – Star Anise

Star anise is a seed pod shaped like an eight-pointed star and contains seeds with an aniseed flavour which comes from the spice’s essential oil.  It is used widely in Chinese cooking and is one of the five spices in Chinese five-spice powder. Star Anise has been made in to a tea and taken as a remedy for rheumatism. The seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion.  Like anise, star anise is an anti-flatulent and can be used as a diuretic.  The taste imparted is aniseed or liquorice and can be used when poaching fruit. By itself whole star anise is frequently used to sweeten soups and meat stews in other types of cuisines. One or two pieces are usually enough to flavor a large bowl as the taste can be overpowering. If you plan to use it as a spice rub, powdered or ground star anise is more practical. The spice is also commonly used in breads, pastries and other types of desserts because of its particular sweetness. Pudding, strudels and custards are some of the preparations where star anise can be used to add a unique flavor.

Star Anise provides us with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and Phosphorous. It also provides moderate amounts of various B-complex vitamins. This versatile spice also helps ease digestion.

Illiciums first evolved in the Cretaceous period around 100 million years ago while dinosaurs still roamed the earth. They are a group of around 30 species of small trees and shrubs from North America, the Caribbean and Asia. Illiciums may not be instantly recognisable by their botanical name but will be recognised as the spice Star Anise which  is the seed pod of Illicium verum. The spice commonly called Star Anise or Badiam that closely resembles anise in flavor is obtained from the star-shaped seed pod of the fruit of Illicium verum which are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil used in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams. 

 

 

Borage – Borago officinalis – Star Flower

I have grown this interesting plant before when we first took on the allotment. I sowed Borage seeds directly into the end of the bean trench and it grew and grew and grew. Personally I liked it so I have bought new seeds from Higgledy. Rob didn’t like it as it tried to take over the allotment. It is a big plant that attracts bees and other pollinators which is why I think it should have a place in both the garden and the allotment. It does need managing though. Direct sow into the ground in mid April and through May. You can also sow in August for flowers the next spring. It’s 26th April and I am sowing some Borage seed in the side garden today.

Borage, also known as a starflower, is an annual herb in the flowering plant family Boraginaceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding. The leaves are edible and the plant is grown in gardens for that purpose in some parts of Europe. The plant is also commercially cultivated for borage seed oil extracted from its seeds. Starflower Oil is taken from the Borage officinalis seeds,

 

 

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts are a good source of Thiamine, Riboflavin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fibre, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

Today we planted up the new brassica cage with twenty Brussel Sprout plants and fifteen Cauliflowers. We gave them a feed of blood fish and bone and circled them with lime and slug pellets. I tidied up the salad tent and sowed three rows of spring onion and a row of salad leaf. I also sowed a largish pot with coriander seeds. Apart from being a useful herb they look and smell good.

As the weather has been dry for days on end we gave everything a good water too.

Herb Rosemary

rosemaryI am making another attempt at growing the herb Rosemary. I have put the last of my seeds in a seven inch pot of moist compost and covered it with cling film. I actually bought a plant earlier this Spring and have managed to lose it already so am hoping to replace it and get a few more plants as well

This herb’s powerful fragrance goes well with lamb and chicken, as well as tomato soup, stews and fresh cooked peas. Sow the seeds from late winter to early summer in seed compost. Do not cover the seed with compost. Make sure that the compost is moist but not wet and seal in a polythene bag until after germination which usually takes 12-40 days at 16C

Thyme and Thyme Again

ThymeThymus Vulgaris

I sowed two pots of Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) today and left them in the lean to germinate. Thyme has always been associated with strength and happiness. In the Middle Ages it was a symbol of courage and sprigs of it were embroidered onto the clothes of crusaders. It has always been valued for its antiseptic qualities which come from the thymol in it.

 

I also sowed a row of Radish Icicle in the cucumber bed in the lean to. All the runner beans that have been germinated in pots at home are now in place in the bean trench. I am a little disappointed as they had gone very leggy and I think that next year I shall either sow directly in the place they are to grow or sow in pots later and plant when the seedling are smaller. I have tried this with the bean Cobra from seed which I saved from last year. I sowed about ten at the end of the bean trench. Rob planted the very last of our bought seed potatoes, namely Pink Fir Apple and Cara, on plot 18.

pink fir apple

Pink Fir Apple is a waxy potato originally imported in 1850 and kept solely by British enthusiasts for decades, because of its very fine flavour. The tubers are long and narrow and famously knobbly, often with side growths. The skin is part pink/part white. The flesh is yellow. Very good when thinly sliced, and gently fried with butter, garlic and onion until potatoes are soft and golden brown. The waxy texture of Pink Fir Apple makes a perfect salad. Cook potatoes whole, then cool and slice. Mix with spring onions, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

 

Lemon Balm – Mellisa Officianalis

Today I sowed the first seeds of my herb collection and chose to start with Lemon Balm, Melissa Officianalis, which I am growing in memory of my Dad, who grew it in his garden. It would have been his birthday on the 17th of this month. He died on Good Friday in 1991 so this time of year is particularly sad for me. It will make me smile to see the plant and rub the leaves as he did to get the scent of lemon.

Lemon Balm 2Lemon Balm 2

Lemon Balm is the common name for Melissa officinalis, an aromatic, sweet herb of the Mint Family grown in the herb garden for seasoning, used in liqueurs and historically as a medicine. It grows to 2 feet tall and has small 2-lipped flowers in late summer and leaves with a lemon smell and flavour.