I've been waiting for a chance to do an update on my herb garden, as it has changed a lot in the last year. The big change is that almost everything is growing in pots now, instead of in the ground. Now is the perfect time for the update for two very good reasons. The first is that it's spring, so everything is growing well and looks nice for photos.
The second reason is that a new book on herbs and spices, by Don Burke, is going on sale next week, and as I worked behind the scenes helping Don to put the book together, I want to tell you all about it. Pictured below is the book cover, but I'll tell you all about it at the end of this blog post. Before my not-very-amateur burst of rampant commercialism, it's onto my potted herb garden show-and tell.
|French tarragon is happy as larry in its new, wider pot,|
replanted there during midwinter when it was just a bunch
of snoozing bare roots and runners. It has such a nice
mildly aniseedy flavour that is heaven with chicken, or eggs.
|Chives in front, lemon thyme left and sage in flower, right.|
The sage is from my original in-the-ground mother plant. I dug
up a section with a rootball and potted that up. It took a while to
bounce back, but it's happy now in its terracotta pot.
|Another 'sprog of mum' plant, my common thyme is a roots-|
and-all chunk of the former large mother plant, replanted and
doing well in a wide, shallow pot. This is one plant that I
cut back very regularly, to keep it low, dense and bushy.
|The rosemary is a cutting grown from the monster size parent,|
and I am cruelly trimming it to encourage dense, low growth,
as it can grow to silly sizes if you let it go unchecked. Rosemary
has such a strong flavour you never need much in any dish.
|I still have a few herbs in the ground, including this chervil,|
which I didn't plant here. It turns out that chervil is so happy
here it's behaving like a weed and self-seeding all over the
place. It has a lovely, light aniseedy flavour.
With only a few exceptions, each herb is covered in what's called a 'double-page-spread' of two open, facing pages. Pam did some of the illustrations used in the book, and my wide-ranging contribution to Don's text goes under the heading of "editorial consultant". Don loves to get down to the practical nitty-gritty of gardening, so he offers tips on how to grow each herb, best varieties, how to harvest and dry or prepare it, then how best to use it in the kitchen. He also quite frankly tells you whether it's worthwhile trying to grow each herb or spice in the garden (as some are hopelessly impractical to grow in backyards while others are dead-easy).
And Don loves a good debunking of myths, too. This is a no-mumbo-jumbo book! Instead of mindlessly repeating all the ancient myths about herbs and spices being good for curing ague, plague or whatever, he's gone straight to modern scientific research to find out whether each herb really is beneficial or not. (The good news is that many are very useful.) However, this is also where Don's book is full of new, fresh info that might contradict some of the very unscientific mumbo-jumbo that has been long attributed to the healing powers of various herbs and spices. Some traditional 'medicinal' herbs are actually unsafe for human consumption, and several are simply useless. While researching this subject area I was struck by how many herb experts writing their books had unquestioningly just repeated the traditional folk myths about the medicinal benefits of herbs and spices. So I say good on you Don for turning to science for your evidence in this area. I learned a lot at this stage of the project.
And did I tell you it's full of delicious recipes and gorgeous colour photos? And if you like to brew interesting cups of tea we've got the tea brewing recipes for you too.
OK, so I am a bit biased, but it's a new kind of herb and spice book, a deliciously practical one. A few enjoyable months of my working life went into helping Don research and prepare the text for this book, and I am very pleased with how it has turned out. Go check it out if you can.
I've noticed that while it doesn't 'officially' go on sale until October 1, it's already up and available for pre-order on websites such as Amazon, the ABC Shop site here in Australia, and numerous other book sellers' websites. Just search for 'Herbs & Spices' by Don Burke and you'll find it.