In My Herb Garden & Dairy [Kitchen]

At this time of year, my kitchen expands to the outdoors – at least when it isn’t raining (not an uncommon feature of a British summer). But when the skies are clear and the weather warm, the herb and fruit gardens, the patio with its big picnic table and barbecue all add up to my outdoor kitchen extension. And, to top it all, the chives are in bloom at the moment, waving their little purple pompoms – those perky cheerleaders of the herb garden.

garden_chives

For a while now, I’ve been harvesting my herbs, starting with making rosemary sugar from the subtly flavored blue flowers. I tested it in a fabulous lemon-polenta cake and have subsequently tweaked the method of making rosemary sugar by infusing the fresh sprigs of rosemary in sugar instead of the flowers (which turned out to be a bit too subtle). The revised sugar really worked in the second lemon and polenta cake. More rosemary sugar tests to come, as I’m eagerly awaiting peach season to poach them in this infused sugar.

lemon_polenta_cake_slice

Another infusion was sale aromatico, aromatic salt, a recipe that I modified from Tessa Kiros’ Tuscan cookbook, Twelve. Finely chopped herbs and other aromatics mingled with the flaky sea salt. The salt is great for grilled fish, meat and veg – perfect timing since the barbecue is back in action!

sale_aromatico_twelve

It took a while for the mint to perform, but I was finally able to make my first batch of mint and balsamic salad dressing which we use throughout the summer on salads and grilled vegetables. It is fabulous on grilled aubergine and courgettes.

mint_salads

The feathery fennel was the opposite of the mint – growing leaps and bounds from the very beginning of spring. I used its feathery fronds liberally in a Sicilian pasta sauce with sardines served with homemade and hand-rolled rustic Tuscan eggless pasta, pici.

sarda_pasta

Another of the herbs I’ve been using is my wild garlic. It is one of the garden’s earliest arrivals, but at this time of year it has nearly retreated back into the ground. At the height of its season, I kept seeing posts with people making variations of wild garlic pesto. First were Chicago John @ From the Bartolini Kitchens and Melissa @ The Glen House. It was only when I spotted a close-up photo of “wild garlic” in Cottage Grove House’s post for another wild garlic pesto (this time in a yummy combination with pea shoots), that I began to wonder if we were all talking about the same plant. Me, being me, I dug in and did a little research. Yes, there are different types of “wild garlic” – one native to Europe and Asia (Allium ursinum, commonly known as ramsons), the other native to North America (Allium tricoccum, commonly called ramps). Chicago John and Cottage Grove House used ramps, while Melissa used ramsons. I discussed the differences a little in my May diary entry for Around My Edible Garden, but have still to find any reference that tells if there is a difference in taste between these two different “wild garlics”. My (very) pungent wild garlic – ramsons – were used judiciously in numerous batches of little Cretan greens pies called hortopites and Corsican inspired herb popovers.

herb_popover

The filling for those herb popovers was a soft goat cheese, produced from my first (rather disastrous) attempt at making cheese with rennet. It was quite by accident, that I discovered that May is the busy month for the Dairy. Or, so says Richard Bradley, an 18th-century Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, in his book, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director in the Management of a House and the Delights and Profits of a Farm (6th edition, 1734). Arranged by month, the chapter for May begins with the statement telling us just that – a busy month for the Dairy. The frontispiece of the book had a wonderful engraving of the various activities on the farm – with the Dairy in one corner showing maids churning butter and lining up bowls for cheese making, a little dog at the entrance meeting a man delivering fresh milk, and another milking in the field just above. It’s all very pastoral and industrious – the delights and profits of a farm dairy! However, I probably should have heeded the warning that it is “first necessary to know how to manage the rennet” before my initial foray into rennet cheese making.

bradley1734_may

I recently got a new cookbook – The Creamery Kitchen by Jenny Linford – mentioned by Selma in her May IMK post. I was so excited when I saw it! That set me on the road to make feta cheese. It turned out to be a long road, with numerous detours and the inevitable dead ends, but with one minor success that tasted feta-ish and even looked like the real thing. It is a work-in-progress as improvements are still required!

feta_attempt2

Given the new growth in the herb garden, conveniently just a few steps outside the kitchen door, I wasn’t surprised when I started finding more ways to cook with these fresh aromatics. However, it was quite a coincidence that my kitchen has been turned into a modern version of that 18th-century dairy during the month of May!

A monthly IMK (In My Kitchen) post. Check out the fabulous Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who lists all of us IMK bloggers, writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month. A chronological listing of my In My Kitchen blog posts can be found on a separate page, just click the link or look under the heading of Diaries in the Menu bar above.
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58 comments

  1. I am envious of your beautiful herb garden, well actually I envy you having the fresh herbs at your finger tips, not the gardening. After slaving away on properties that we battled just to maintain, we decided to free up our time and move to a city townhouse. We have a communal herb garden and a gardener now, much easier. I hope you’ll share you cheese making journey so we can learn from your experience. The feta looks good!

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    • I know what you mean re. gardening – a never ending task. But having access to a herb garden is a real pleasure and I think I have it down to just perennial herbs that are low maintenance. Annual, tender herbs I either buy or grow seasonally in pots. Cheese making post is a work in progress just like the feta, but will definitely share – soon, I hope!

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    • We are eating a lot of Greek salads with feta until I get it right! The cheese making post is in draft form – hopefully it will be posted soon! I’ve been making my own ricotta and mascarpone for some time now, but it is very different working with rennet. Have high hopes for this next batch!

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  2. WOW, what a fabulous kitchen you have! Thanks for all your details descriptions and hard work… I think I will be doing some of those salt recipes with my sage and tarragon (they are my tow favourite herbs) And I am yet to get into cheese making (it scares me a little) but I really would like to have a go! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Tarragon and lemon salt!!! Thanks for the idea, but will need to wait for the tarragon to grow a bit more. I keep it in a pot so I can bring it indoors during the winter, but growth is somewhat restricted and it takes its time every spring/summer to get going. Cheese making scared me, too, but I finally took the plunge and have been learning as I go – multiple mistakes, or as they say in science, negative results, but we learn from them, and try a new tack. Have almost nailed feta cheese making!

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  3. I am impressed with your attempt at fetta. I think, however, I will only manage making that delightful herbal salt. a great summmary of your summery kitchen dishes. Love them all.

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    • Am on attempt number 4 for feta – attempts 2 and 3 were okay and eventually produced something tasting like feta, but I am hopeful this last one will do the trick. Meanwhile, I have a LOT of cheese for Greek salads, spanakopitas, etc. It got under my skin that it didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to – hence my determination. We’ve been using the herbal salt – really useful and great flavour.

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    • Those ramps confused me, too. The North American variety are actually wild leeks, so I think they must taste different from the wild garlic I have in my British garden. I had wondered if it grew in Australia, but suspected it didn’t. That soft goaty cheese was very good in the popovers, but just not what I expected! I hate waste, so I was glad to find a use for it.

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  4. What a delicious looking postโ€ฆ.your herbs, your feta, infused salts, salad dressing, plus moreโ€ฆ..wow! Im now leaving a tad hungary but very inspired! Thanks for sharing! x

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  5. Oh, thanks for the enlightenment around ramps! They are so unbearably hip right now that I automatically discount them. Who knew that ‘ramps’ are the same as the weed that grows all over my garden in early spring! I have used them in cooking (pasta specifically) but didn’t know I was using ramps!
    Also the worthy Wikipedia informs that ‘ramp’ is closer to the original ‘hramsa’, while ‘ramson’ is a plural akin to ‘oxen’ and ‘children’.

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    • You know, even though I grew up near the area they are native (i.e the Appalachians), we never ate ramps, nor did I ever hear of anyone eating/foraging them. I guess it must be a fad that developed after I left the US. Interesting about the singular-plural forms – one article I read indicated that the term ramps came about (probably) because British colonials associated the plant with what they were familiar with in the “homeland” – that is, ramsons.

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  6. Your mint dressing sounds good and as mint is one of my more successful herbs I shall have to give it a go. I’ve just made Norway Spruce salt and was wondering what to do with it – now I know to use it for barbecued meat. Will be watching your cheese making adventure with great interest.

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    • Norway spruce salt? How is that made? Sounds really interesting – piney like rosemary, I bet. Grilled meat or fish would be great. Rennet is a real ******. It has taken me a while to come to grips with its properties, but I think I have it down. Will be posting soon.

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    • Hi Lauren. Yes, both the pasta and the popovers were delicious. My husband has even requested a repeat on the sardine and fennel pasta for his birthday coming up soon. Will have to get the pasta rolling muscles in shape again!

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  7. Debi, you grow so many of the same herbs that we have here, but you use them so much more creatively than we do! Love all the ideas – rosemary sugar (our bush has gone bananas), seasoned salt, and even a use for our fennel fronds! Thank you! One thing we don’t get here though is wild garlic! Good luck with your feta experiments – it certainly LOOKS right! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I do love my herb garden, but the rosemary is the real devil if not ruthlessly clipped every year. Last year I had to take a saw to it and take out 2/3 just to give the other herbs a bit of breathing space. The rosemary sugar (once I started infusing the sprigs and not the flowers) is great. The second lemon polenta cake I made with it had definite rosemary hints. Feta attempt 4 in progress. I feel confident now that I’ve found John’s (From the Bartolini Kitchens) feta making primer. Will be posting about the trials and tribulations soon! But, you are right, some of the cheese produced does resemble feta – plenty for Greek salads throughout the summer.

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  8. Just came across your blog and it is wonderful in every way. Love the idea of herb sugars and salts. After you are through testing this rosemary sugar will you be posting, saw your other post with the rosemary flowers?

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    • Why not try some experiments of your own? I will probably put an update in the form of a postscript on the post on rosemary sugar (the one with the flowers). Yes, infusing the sprigs is much better than infusing the flowers – although not as pretty! The herbed salt is spectacular – I’ve been using it a lot and will probably have to make a new batch soon.

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  9. Rosemary sugar is now on the list of things to do. What with the salt last week and infused sugar this… I think reading your blog is going to have me trying out all sorts of new ideas with herbs!

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    • Cooking with herbs is so much fun and I love playing around with the stuff that comes direct from the garden. I’m also addicted to Mediterranean food, so the herbs fit in quite naturally. It is also great trying new things with my own “to do” list from fellow bloggers’ posts.

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  10. Rosemary sugar sounds brilliant. And now that I have read that I remember we used to go to a restaurant in Tokyo and the dessert was always chocolate and rosemary mousse and it was divine. Thanks for the reminder and the peek into your busy garden and kitchen.

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    • Chocolate and rosemary combination sounds delicious. The rosemary sugar was a success and I will be making it again in the future. Good to have a supply in the pantry. Thanks for stopping by the kitchen/garden – and thanks for mentioning the mousse. Might be something to try.

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  11. Debi, that beautiful old book is a priceless treasure! You also have wonderful ideas for making use of herbs… popovers, sale aromatica and rosemary infused sugar. Can’t wait to make them! (Was thinking the sugar would be delicious in freshly squeezed lemonade.) Thank you for this lovely, lovely post!

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    • I was just reading 2(!) separate posts discussing drinks made from spruce sugar or spruce syrup – one I think was a lemonade. Never heard of harvesting the new green tips from spruce trees before, but it looked interesting. And, the piney similarities made me think of the rosemary infusions – so, yes I think rosemary sugar in lemonade would be fabulous!

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  12. I think i’d love to wonder through your herb garden… I don’t have a garden but my terrace is packed with pots with lots of aromatic herbs…. I can’t stay or cook without them! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • You are right – got to have fresh herbs whether in a garden patch or in pots on the terrace. Made me laugh – I wish I could walk through my herb garden, but I have a small urban back garden and the space set aside for herbs is quite small, but quite crowded. I usually just walk up to it… Maybe next house, a larger walk through herb garden, structured with short box hedging…or a delightful free design. It’s nice to have these little day dreams!

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  13. Your chive blossoms look amazing and you have such wonderful flavors in your kitchen. The lemon polenta cake looks delicious and now I feel hungry. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for the peek into your kitchen.

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    • Thanks for stopping by my garden/kitchen! I love this time of year when I can get to play will all the fresh herbs conveniently growing just outside the back door. The lemon polenta cake with rosemary was absolutely delicious.

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