Although my 25-year-old daughter has grown up to be a fabulous chef (who now lives and works in Australia), I don’t consider myself to be a great cook in the kitchen. Nor do I have a “knowing palate.” But I’ve always admired people who can taste the various flavors and components mixed into any dish. It’s a bit like a wine enthusiast who, upon tasting various varietals, can tell you where the wine is from because the “dirt” where the grapes were grown gives the wine a certain flavor. I love wine. But I’ll be darned if I can taste any dirt!
On the other hand, playing in the dirt (a/k/a gardening) is one of my favorite pastimes! In addition to our vegetable gardens at Valley Green, I always love to plant a small herb garden, just for me. With my tiny little corner of the earth, I can plant whatever I want, without discussion of who likes what, how much to plant, or “why are you growing that?”
Growing herbs is fun, and it can be accomplished by any gardener — even the apartment dweller in the city! I use herbs not only in cooking, but also in our Valley Green Naturals personal care products. I love making botanical soaps and bath salts with mint, lavender and rosemary that has been grown in my own herb garden, free of pesticides and herbicides, and dried in my old butler’s pantry. Using my own naturally grown and dried herbs really adds to the “special-ness” of our company’s products!
At the same time, growing herbs like tarragon, sweet basil, chives and oregano will bring a nice variety of spices to your kitchen! I like using crushed tarragon combined with ground black pepper as a rub for steaks before grilling them. This year, I’ve already started a nice planting of “Cinnamon Basil” in a container at my front door. I plucked a few leaves the other night and tossed them into my organic Alfredo sauce as it cooked on the stove. The aroma, the flavor, and the view of the vineyard from my kitchen window, made me feel like I was cooking in a kitchen somewhere in Tuscany!
To make a small patch in your yard for growing herbs, you don’t even need to tear up the ground. Shown at left is a fancier version of a raised garden bed. But you can make a simple herb frame from 4 equal-size 2x4s; attach them with corner braces (available at your local hardware store), and fill the square frame with dirt. For mine, I purchased 6 bags of quality top soil for the fill dirt and placed plastic on the ground, inside the frame as a weed barrier before pouring in the dirt. (A large, cut-open garbage bag works well as your weed barrier.)
I planted the herb seeds according to the seed packet directions, in tidy rows. As of today (6 days later), they are just beginning to germinate! Soon, we’ll have chamomile, lavender, parsley, chives, tarragon, oregano, and sweet basil. And growing in containers on my sunny porch steps, I have rosemary, chives, oregano and cinnamon basil. (Fourteenth century folklore says that growing rosemary at the entrance to your home helps to ward off bad things while it brings in love!)
Apartment dwellers, or those with limited yard space, will find that herbs grow very nicely in containers! The key to container gardening is to make sure that you water consistently, and keep your herb plants evenly moist. Since containers sit above ground, they are more likely to dry out faster, which will quickly kill fragile seedlings. Keep your containers in a sunny space, and as your plants grow, turn the containers periodically to ensure they fill out evenly.
The nice thing about growing herbs is that you can experiment to your heart’s delight with the various flavors and aromas they offer. I’ve even decided to grow Chamomile this year to make tea! The May/June 2010 issue of one of my favorite magazines, Hobby Farm Home, celebrates cooking with Lavender! The issue includes some really neat recipes for Lavender Butter, Marinated Goat Cheese, Lavender Citrus Salad & Dressing, Lavender Potato and Leek Soup, and even Greek Lamb Chops with Lavender. My favorite recipe from this issue is for White Chocolate-lavender Cheesecake, and I have included it below! Remember to always buy organic ingredients whenever possible!
White Chocolate-lavender Cheesecake
(from the May-June 2010 issue of Hobby Farm Home magazine)
1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 & 3/4 pounds cream cheese, softened
4 farm-fresh eggs
1 & 1/2 tsp. dried lavender buds (use food grade if purchased)
1 T. grated orange peel
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 T. orange liqueur
4 ounces white chocolate, melted
Combine cracker crumbs with butter to form crust. Put into 9-inch springform pan.
Beat cream cheese with sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in white chocolate, vanilla, lavender, orange peel and liqueur.
Spoon into crust. Bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Cool completely; refrigerate until cold.
Unmold and slice with knife dipped in boiling water.
Makes 12 servings.
For more recipes mentioned in this month’s issue of Hobby Farm Home, visit: www.hobbyfarmhome.com/cookinglavender
So for now, I’m off to check my herb seedlings and toil in the dirt!
Happy gardening, and have a ‘naturally’ wonderful day!