Growing Herbs

Apart from appearance and texture, the flavour of many herbs is changed or degraded by drying, and as all fresh herbs are not to be bought in shops, the only solution is to grow them oneself.

Gardening notes have been given in the text. They are very general because so much depends on soil and climate. Keen gardeners are probably going to have their local gardening blogs anyway.

Personally, I am not a very keen gardener because I do not have the time and am usually away from home when important operations need doing. In my experience, however, the blogs always give instructions for growing prize herbs, and this for the cook is quite unnecessary. All we want is a piece of the herb when we want it, and it does not matter if it is a fully-grown fine plant or a clump of young leaves seeded by accident in a corner, although it is quite true that most herbs have their very best moments for gathering usually just before flowering.

I sow and stick in herbs all over the place in the flower beds with some reference to whether they like shelter, full sun, partial shade, lime, and so on, but not otherwise being fussy. I usually find that by chance I have put in some of the cuttings, plants or seeds in places they like. There they are allowed to establish themselves. In the other places they either do not thrive or die out. Now with annuals or biennials it is usually enough to let some plants set seed and give them a good shake when the seed is ripe. They will come up in the same place next year.

Growing Herbs Photo Gallery

Perennials are no further bother once established, and can also occasionally be allowed to set seed and produce new plants.

By this lazy method a number of herbs are soon established in the garden without trouble. There may be a few which require a battle. The point for the cook is that most herbs are decorative and should be allowed to grow where they want to grow not where you want them to. Isn’t this a basic difference in outlook between a cook and a real gardener?

And now, at the end, I feel that I ought to do what I was no doubt expected to do at the beginning: define a flavouring. Unfortunately, it defies definition. On tasting any well-flavoured dish, it becomes apparent that its flavour depends not only on the small quantities of herbs, spices and special bits and pieces added to the basic mixture, but on the basic mixture itself and especially on the balance and quality of the ingredients.

The important point is not necessarily what a flavouring is, but that one has an awareness of the harmony of ingredients and of those special flavourings which complement the basic ingredients. One must know which dishes need the addition of herbs and spices, as opposed to those to which any addition would be unnecessary – even a sacrilege. Almost all foods have some flavour of their own, and different methods of cooking also produce different flavours. Oils, fats and even water lend special flavours to cooking. In Rome one can see smart women dressed in mink coming to certain fountains with bottles to collect water which has a special reputation in cooking. A friend of mine who keeps a fine restaurant, swears that the fame of one of his specialities depends on using bottled mineral water instead of ordinary water in its preparation. Is this a flavouring? Whether they are right or wrong – and I suspect they are right – they care, which is the basis of all work above the average and even all genius.

So, in the end, wanting a definition to decide what is and what is not a flavouring I have put into this blog just what I felt might be useful, though considerations of length have made it necessary to delete a number of the more unusual items. Other disputable things, such as strongly flavoured salad herbs and oil seeds, have stayed in.

Flavourings have the great merit of being cheap, and with them one can play tunes on even the commonest everyday ingredients. But attention! There are two proverbs for consideration. There is the English, ‘Enough is as good as a feast’, and the Romanian, ‘Too much is better than not enough’. One can disagree with both, but in cooking both prove perhaps that the final arbiter of taste is the individual. One must trust one’s own palate and approach all foods and flavourings with curiosity and inventiveness. In these days when there is a strong pressure towards uniformity, those to whom cooking is not a chore, but a creative occupation and means of expression, are very fortunate. Fortunate also are the friends they entertain in their houses.

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