Saturday, May 8, 2010

Weekend Cooking: I Never Promised You a Herb Garden

I might be stretching the whole Weekend Cooking theme with this week's post and if so, my apologies to Beth Fish Reads, who graciously hosts this fun feature (you can find out all the details here on how you can be a Weekend Cooker, too). 

As we all know, April showers bring May flowers ... and in this area, Mother's Day weekend always brings the arrival of the Wilmington Flower Market. It started in 1921 with the idea of hosting a fundraiser to benefit local children's charities, and several women contributed to the event by donating plants, food, etc.  Now, 90 years later, the proceeds still benefit local children's organizations and the Wilmington Flower Market has grown (pun intended) to a three-day festival with rides, food, games, unique merchants, crafts, children's activities, and of course, flowers and plants galore for sale.  (It continues through 7 p.m. today, if you're in the vicinity and want to check it out.)

My new job involves working for one of the organizations benefiting from a portion of the proceeds raised from the Flower Market, so in exchange, several of us volunteer to help the volunteers out by working in the tents. I signed up for a shift in the Herb Tent, and spent Thursday morning surrounded by dozens of varieties of herbs, more than I ever imagined existed. For example, there were at least four different kinds of lavender plants, as shown here ...

and basil varieties that stretched across a whole table ...

and herbs with double-entendre names like Creeping Thyme ...
(I can imagine using this photo for a Halloween-themed post in the future, as the tags look like tombstones, don't they? :)

... and baskets made up with selected herbs, perfect for Mother's Day gifts.

As the Flower Market patrons shopped for herbs at our tent, the conversation often turned to cooking and the culinary delights they planned to create with their purchases of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Which, of course, made me want to do the same.  After four hours in the Herb Tent, I had visions of a summer filled with homemade pesto, Mexican dishes flavored with cilantro, fresh tomato sauce with basil and oregano, frittatas and omelets with French tarragon ....

There was only one problem:  I know next to nothing about growing herbs. I know that they are conducive to container gardening, which is pretty much the only type of gardening I am capable of (and even that's being kind). I'm one of those people who loves the idea of gardening and wants to be able to have a nice little garden - I'd absolutely love to have a vegetable garden - but my lack of knowledge and the reality of the time it takes to maintain a garden always seems to be my downfall.

So I asked the garden club volunteers who were running the Herb Tent for their suggestions for an herb garden newbie like myself. (These ladies were so pleasant, so delightful, and oh my word, so knowledgeable about all this stuff!) One woman, whose name was actually Marjoram, was especially enthusiastic and encouraging.

"Just have fun with it," she said.  "Get a few nice-sized terra-cotta containers, try a few of them, maybe the basic ones, and just see what works.  Your cooking will be so much more fun and different."

OK, sold. 

At left are my new herb plants, on my front steps awaiting their new terra-cotta homes.  I bought one plant each of sweet basil, garlic chives, cilantro, Greek oregano, parsley, French tarragon, English thyme, and watercress.

So, tell me, my green thumbed friends ... now what do I do?  (And more importantly, tell me your favorite recipes using these herbs!)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


caite said...

oh, it is time to start thinking about planting my herb garden! there is nothing like being able to wander out there and grab a handful of fresh, tasty things.
and in a couple of months, fresh Jersey tomatoes!

As a Jersey-ite, I must say I love your header

Beth F said...

Perfect Weekend Cooking post! Lucky you to have access to so many herbs. I have grown herbs for years -- they are the easiest thing because most do not require much care at all. Don't use fertilizers, they tend to make for big plants but with the sacrifice of flavor. Just experiment with what works for your area.

I generally grow rosemary and basil in pots and have sage, thyme, parsley, chives, oregano and many others in the garden.

I agree that the one photo does look like a good Halloween picture!

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I love this post and think it's perfect for Weekend Cooking. I hope you'll do some follow-up posts on how you use these herbs.

I've grown herbs in pots with great success and also failure. As Beth said, they are easy to grow. My failures occurred when I didn't pay attention to them. Things like giving them water every few days are essential. And then later in the season they can take off and bolt on you and just go to seed. So - my advice is to put them in a pot (or garden area) with good composted soil, give them plenty of water, and pick off a few leaves on a regular basis.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

JoAnn said...

Great post! I want to try a small herb garden this summer, but it'll probably have to be in a kitchen window. Too many critters around here :-)

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Oh gosh, I have herb recipes coming out my ears....I always plant a huge herb garden, LOL. My newest favorite involves chives (which I cannot plant enough of)....I got it off of the chive tag that came with the plant start. It's Russian Garlic Cheese Spread.

8oz Muenster cheese
3 large cloves garlic minced
5 T. mayo
1 T. fresh chives
dash salt

Grate the cheese into a medium bowl and add garlic. Stir in mayo till creamy. Add chives and salt, stir and refridgerate. Serve with thin slices of black bread or french bread.

Very yummy.

JoAnn said...

I first went to the Wilmington Flower Market in a carriage 63 years ago! I was born and raised in Wilmington and still live nearby. It is a great event.

My brother works for Burpee and makes me a huge pot of herbs every year and often surprises me with a new variety of something. Last year he included Pesto Basil, with beautiful green and white leaves. One year it was African Blue basil which made the most beautiful pink vinegar! The chives that were in the pot three years ago are still alive, thriving on the deck through the winter with no watering (they are at my beach house). When I arrived at the beach this year, the chives had purple flowers on them.

Good luck with your herbs and cooking with them. I love going out on the deck and snipping some herbs....

Julia said...

For a split second, I did imagine them to be tombstones.

Heather said...

wow, it sounds like it was a wonderful place to be. I am going to grow more tea herbs this summer. I loved going outside for fresh mints all last summer and then putting them straight in the teapot.

patricia said...

Water them. You seem to forget that, but not too much. Love Mom