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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Mother Nature tricked us with a late spring that jumped right into summer so we Midwest gardeners are just now starting to reap the bounty of our labor. As often happens, we tend to get a little of this and a bit of that to begin with…and soon thereafter find ourselves inundated with a lot of one thing or another.

food vegetables cucumbers gherkins

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Cucumbers and a few other veggies don’t hold up well for extended storage. Yet they don’t arrive early in sufficient quantities to make it worth the home cook’s time and effort to can them.

Bread and Butter Pickles are a family favorite, so every summer I hope for a bumper crop of cucumbers so I can to replenish the pantry stock. Problem is that the first harvest usually nets only a few cukes: too many for hubby and me to use up before they go soft, but not enough to  justify pulling out the canning equipment to make pints of pickles.

Ah…but I’ve figured out a recipe solution for that problem.

With a few adjustments, I transformed my mother’s recipe for Ice Box Pickles into a no-canning version of Bread and Butter Pickles that can be made and consumed in small batches while I wait for the big cucumber harvest. (That will likely come when it’s hotter than Hades and any exertion whatsoever in the 99.9% Missouri humidity results in buckets of perspiration.)

In the meantime…

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Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles

Ingredients:

4 cups sliced cucumbers

1 cup sliced onions

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt

1 cup white sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 cup white vinegar

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon celery seeds

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

Instructions:

Toss the cucumbers, onion, and salt together in a large bowl. Cover and chill in the fridge while for about an hour. Meanwhile, you can prepare the pickling solution.

For the pickling solution, combine sugar, brown sugar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric in a large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugars are completely dissolved and incorporated. Continue simmering for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Drain the cucumbers and onions into a colander and rinse to remove any undissolved salt. Return to the bowl and pour the hot pickling solution over the cucumbers and onions. Let stand at room temperature for about an hour before storing in an airtight container.

This will make about 4 cups of pickles, so you could store them in a quart jar or 2 pint jars. You can use Tupperware-type containers, but glass is better for retaining the flavor.  These pickles will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month, but they usually don’t last that long around here.

healthy vegetables hand gardening

Radishes tend to come all at once. If you happen to harvest more than you can consume raw in salads before they get pithy, you have a couple of options: cook them or pickle them. You can sauté them with bacon and radish greens or roast them with carrots, peppers, potatoes, and/or other vegetables. Cooked radishes have less of a “bite” than raw ones do.

Or you can turn them into a condiment!

Taking inspiration from Do Chua, the pickled daikon and carrot concoction that is prevalent in Vietnamese cuisine, I developed a recipe that combines garden-variety radishes with carrots in a versatile relish. Whether it is topping humble grilled hot dogs, spicing up a salad, or adding extra oomph to a slow-smoked brisket, it has become a summer staple in our household.

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Poor Girl’s Do Chua (Pickled Radishes and Carrots)

 Ingredients:

1 large carrot

½ pound (8 ounces) cherry belle or other rosy-skinned radishes

1 clove of garlic

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

¼ cup white vinegar

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

Instructions:

Wash, peel, and dice carrot into small cubes. Wash and trim radishes and chop coarsely. (Do not peel radishes unless you use a less common variety like daikon or watermelon radishes. The red skin makes for a delightfully colorful relish.) Peel garlic clove and slice very thinly. The easiest and safest way to do this is to use a vegetable peeler to shave thin strips from the clove.

In a large, non-reactive bowl combine carrots, radishes, garlic slices, sugar and salt. Use your fingertips to toss the vegetables together and work the salt and sugar into them until dissolved.  In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together the water and vinegars.

Pack the vegetables into a pint canning jar (see Note) and then pour the pickling liquid over them. Cap the jar tightly and refrigerate for a minimum of 10 minutes before use. While the relish can be served at this point, the flavor is better if it’s allowed to chill at least 24 hours.

Unused portions of relish can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, but it will  begin to lose some crunchiness after about a month – still edible, but not quite as yummy.

Yields about 1 pint.

Note: Storing the relish in a plastic container instead of glass will ultimately result in a less flavorful relish as the vinegar will gradually seep into the porous plastic.

pickled jalapenos preserve preserved

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Despite the adage’s negative connotation, being “in a pickle” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it?

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person holding a green plant

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Thanks to our typically atypical Missouri weather, we got a late start with our vegetable gardening this season. A cold, rainy April was followed by about thirty minutes of spring in early May before we jumped right into hot, humid summer days.  When it wasn’t too cold or rainy to till the veggie beds, some other pressing chore stood in the way of progress.

Some years are just like that.

I took advantage of that one spring-like day in May to hand-till my little four-square garden and plant kale, mesclun, turnips, and radishes. Two days later I discovered that some critter had chewed through the plastic fencing. Mr. ‘Possum (or possibly Miss Raccoon?) had a heyday digging and rolling in the newly seeded soil. Dear hubby and I replaced the fencing with metal chicken wire which, while less attractive, would certainly prove to be a better wildlife barrier. Of course, in the process more seeds were disturbed and trampled. That left nothing more to do than wait a week and see if anything sprouted.

The results proved quite interesting. A handful of kale survived along with three or four pathetic lettuce sprouts and a whole lot of weeds. The turnip section was absolutely covered with seedlings, but there was no telling at that point what might be growing among the root veggies. Only the radish bed seemed somewhat unscathed. A bit of thinning actually produced a nice little bunch of radishes. Eventually, the turnip bed yielded gallons of greens…and nothing else.

((Sigh.))

healthy vegetables hand gardening

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I completely reworked the four-square after the chaos caused by the critter invasion and fence renovation. Kale and lettuce are sprouting again and so are the radishes, beets, and turnips.

Ah, turnips.

Just to illustrate how failure can result in bounty, my clearing of the ill-fated four-square garden did not yield a single turnip embryo, but I harvested all the leaves – which proved to be more than I could fit in my slow cooker. After we feasted Saturday evening on turnip greens and a bacon-wrapped, moonshine-basted, and smoked pork loin, I had enough cooked greens left to freeze two quarts. Between the remaining turnip greens and the leaves I harvested from the radishes, I’ll be able to cook another mess for the freezer. And future harvests of beets, radishes, and turnips will provide even more.

It’s a good thing hubby and I like to eat our greens.

greens

Some people shun cooked greens. I suspect that’s because they were introduced to them as children. And no offense to Popeye, they were probably force-fed that yucky canned spinach that does not do justice to real soul-food greens.

I divide leafy green vegetables into two categories: Salad greens and cooking greens.

Spinach, arugula, and anything remotely resembling lettuce are salad greens. They should be eaten raw or “wilted” by sautéing them with oil, vinegar, sugar, and seasonings.

Cooking greens are the leaves (often tough or prickly) of most root vegetables as well as thick-leafed, heavy-stemmed vegetables like collards. Kale is a crossover because some varieties lend themselves more to salads and others are only suited to cooking.

And yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to prepare cooking greens. The right way is low, slow and long. The wrong way is, well…any other way.

Here’s how I do it in my 8-quart Crockpot.

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Real Southern-Style Greens

Ingredients:

About 10 to 12 cups of cooking greens that have been thoroughly washed and roughly sliced (Any combination will do…turnip, beet, radish, kale, or collards…even dandelion leaves!)

1 large red or sweet yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

6 slices of bacon cut crosswise into ½ inch strips

¼ pound diced salt pork or ham (or 1 whole smoked ham hock)

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Coarsely ground black pepper to taste (about ½ teaspoon works for us)

5 or 6 healthy dashes of red pepper sauce

6 cups of water (more if needed to cover the greens)

Hard boiled eggs for garnish (optional)

Instructions:

Before you do anything else, wash the greens in several changes of water and remove any thick, tough stems. Don’t depend on “prewashed” greens being free of sand, dirt, insects, and other foreign objects.

Gather handfuls of greens on your chopping board and slice through them across the leaves in ½ inch strips. The idea is to shred them, not chop them.

Layer about half the shredded greens in the bottom of your slow cooker and top with chopped onion, bacon strips, and ham (or salt pork) cubes. Add the remaining shredded greens and 6 cups of water. Push down with the back or a spoon to make sure there’s just enough water to cover the greens. Pour in the apple cider vinegar, sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce. Stir to dissolve the sugar and then toss and stir to thoroughly combine all the ingredients.

Cook on the low temperature setting of your slow cooker for a minimum of 6 hours. Taste the pot liquor and adjust seasonings if necessary. If desired, garnish each serving with chopped or sliced hard boiled eggs.

Yields about 3 quarts of cooked greens (with pot liquor).

For authentic Southern soul effect, serve up cornbread alongside for sopping up the pot liquor.

cornbread

And don’t pour the excess juiciness down own the drain! Stored in airtight containers, pot liquor can be refrigerated or frozen and used later as a nutrient-rich addition to soups, juices, and smoothies.

(By the way, the same holds true for the water in which peeled potatoes have been boiled. It can be used to make white sauces or as a base for creamed vegetables or soups.)

Freeze leftovers in quart or pint freezer containers for up to 12 months.

Be strong. Be brave. Be healthy.

Eat your greens!

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two people shaking hands

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It all started with a knock on my door one sunny summer afternoon.

There on my front porch stood a young man…hardly more than a boy, really…who shyly stammered, “Can I m-m-m. Excuse me. Can I m-m-mow your yard for $20?”

“Sorry,” I replied. “My husband likes to do the mowing and trimming himself. Says it’s his summer exercise routine.”

The kid looked so crestfallen it almost broke my heart. “Do you do any other kinds of yard work?”

His demeanor brightened immediately. “F-f-f-for $20?”

“I was just thinking that my flower beds really need some attention. If you’ll help me pull weeds for an hour, I’ll pay you $20.”

“D-d-d-deal!” he exclaimed.

Since I didn’t know if he could tell the difference between a dandelion and a daisy, I put the boy to work on the brick mowing path. Everything growing there was a weed.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“M-m-m. Excuse me. Marcus.”

“Marcus, my name is Janet. Do you live nearby?”

“Yes’m. Next to the f-f-f-firehouse.”

He pointed north, in the general direction of Main Street. I knew just where he meant. A string of tiny, low-rent, minimally-maintained apartments that were likely built in the 1940s or 50s lined that section of the road.

We spent the next hour chatting and weeding. Marcus impressed me with his willingness to do whatever it took to earn the money he seemed to desperately need. When I handed him two ten dollar bills and a cold bottle of water, he asked, “C-c-c-can I come back next week?”

“Sure.”

man person school head

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As the summer wore on, I learned a lot about my new friend. Marcus had just turned 16 years old the week before he first knocked on my door. He shared that little apartment with his grandmother. Neither his father nor his mother had stuck around long enough to see baby Marcus take his first steps as a toddler. And Maw, as he called her, was getting pretty old. Marcus worried that she might not live long enough to see him graduate from high school. He said he liked to cook and that he dreamed that someday he could attend culinary school and learn how to be a real chef.

Marcus was like a sponge. He absorbed every bit of knowledge he could about the vegetables, herbs, and flowers I grew in my gardens. I learned that his favorite meal was fried chicken with a mess of slow-cooked greens and mashed potatoes. When he found out that I write, he declared that maybe he would be a writer someday himself.

One day I harvested more turnip greens, tomatoes, and zucchinis than I had the time or patience to deal with right away, so I offered them to Marcus. His smile and the hug he gave me in exchange for the vegetables more than adequately expressed his gratitude.

“Th-th-th-excuse me. Th-thank you. There’s not much f-f-f-food at our house right now.”

His response made me wish I had fried chicken to send home with him, too. How, I wondered, could there be people going hungry in our town?

After that, I made a point of regularly offering produce from our garden and sometimes a few slices of leftover meatloaf or pork roast. I always cooked more than hubby and I could eat. Why shouldn’t Marcus and Maw benefit from our abundance?

agriculture basket beets bokeh

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Looking back, I realize I could have – no, SHOULD have – done more to help them.

By fall, Marcus could do most of the yard work unsupervised, but I had come to cherish the time we spent together so I often joined him at his labors just to enjoy his company. But the days were growing shorter. School and homework often kept him from having time to stop by looking for chores he could do to earn his $20.

When winter dropped several inches of heavy, wet snow during a particularly blustery day, I had suited up in layers of warm clothing and was trying to psych myself up to go out and shovel when Marcus knocked on the door.

“D-d-do you have a snow sh-sh-sh-shovel?”

“In the garage,” I answered. “But I’m short on cash, Marcus. I can’t pay you to shovel today.”

“M-m-m-my treat.” His grin shined whiter than the snow. “You-you-you. Excuse me. You too old to shovel.”

I would have felt insulted at the age comment had I not been so grateful for his help.

Winter turned to spring and spring into summer and Marcus came to help me with chores about once a week – sometimes more frequently. Early one bright summer Saturday, Marcus knocked on my door. When I answered, he pulled a red polo shirt from behind his back and held it in front of him. The logo of a nearby fast food restaurant punctuated his comment, “I-I-I g-g-got a j-j-j-job! A real j-j-j-job!”

“Congratulations, Marcus!” I hugged him. “And you’ll be working with food. That will be good experience when you go to culinary school.”

“C-c-c-costs a lot of money to go to school. C-c-can I still come and work on my days off?”

“Of course!”

Our friendship continued for several years. He invited me to his high school graduation. I couldn’t have been more pleased and honored than to watch him take that walk. Marcus proudly introduced me to his invalid grandmother.  I later learned that my young friend had pushed Maw over three miles in her wheelchair so she could attend the ceremony.

accomplishment ceremony education graduation

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A couple of weeks ago, as we approached the Memorial Day weekend and headed to Kansas City to celebrate a grand-niece’s graduation, it dawned on me that it’s been almost two years since Marcus last knocked on my door. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen him walking up Main Street to get to his fast-food job in a very long time, either.

Of the hundreds of questions I’d asked Marcus during dozens of conversations, how is it that I never thought to ask his last name? Or his Maw’s last name? How could I have not paid attention at his graduation to pick up that tidbit of information as the principal called it out while he crossed the stage to collect his diploma?

Short of knocking on every door in the apartment complex looking for Marcus or Maw, I know of no way to check up on my friend. Did Maw pass away, leaving him homeless? Had he flipped enough burgers, mowed enough lawns, pulled enough weeds, and raked enough leaves to pay for his tuition to culinary school?

I may never know.

But I do know this: if I ever win the lottery, I will somehow find a way to locate my young friend and make sure that he has all the money he needs to make his dreams come true. I will pay for a speech therapist to help Marcus overcome his stuttering so he never has to be embarrassed by it again…or say “I-I-I…excuse me.”

Marcus, if you happen to read this, please come knock on my door. I have a ton of yardwork that needs to be done and you know I’m getting too old to do it by myself.

NOTE: This blog post is based on a true story, with some fictional elements added to protect my friend’s identity and privacy. Only stock photos were used and the real Marcus is not depicted in any image.

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Younger folks might not appreciate the affection some antique people (like me!) hold for good, old-fashioned aprons like our grandmothers wore. These days, aprons tend to be single purpose.

 

garden apron

One can purchase gardening aprons designed to hold essential tools. They are universally capable of withstanding the grime that comes with digging in the dirt. Some are waterproof…just in case the wearer has a close encounter of the sprinkler kind, I suppose. They seem to come in two main types: with bib, and without. The latter version straps around the waist – usually with a webbed belt- and has a short panel with a few pockets to hold just the essentials. As an avid veggie, herb, and flower grower, I don’t see the usefulness of an apron so small one that there’s no place to wipe the mud off of one’s hands. The bib type usually sports an extra pocket or two, but aside from covering one’s sternum (which is often where one of those extra pockets is positioned), it doesn’t seem to me to be of any more value than its bib-less friend. Neither variety has a sufficiently ample skirt for carrying a freshly harvested mess of green beans or peas. Heck, they’d barely hold a couple of tomatoes!

Now there is even such a thing as an egg-gathering apron. Outfitted with a dozen or more little ovum-sized pockets, this garment apparently serves the purpose of eliminating the need for carrying a basket to the hen house. These aprons are all bib-free, which is just as well since egg-gathering activities generally take place below the waistline. Usually sewn up from nostalgic adorable gingham or adorable chicken print fabrics, they certainly make an impressive barnyard fashion statement. But here’s the thing: to me they look like a cracking incident waiting to happen. If the wearer should happen to bump into something or forget herself and crouch down, she could end up with egg all over her cute little apron and whatever she’s wearing under it…to say nothing of the egg on her face when she returns from the chicken coop with no usable fresh eggs.

egg apron

And then there are the kitchen aprons. One website I visited proudly proclaimed that it featured more than 320 varieties from which customers could choose. Seriously? I had to check that out. Aside from color choices, I found that their stock consisted primarily of two types: bib aprons for men and bib aprons for women…although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what made one gender’s apron distinct from the other’s. They all had a neck loop that held the bib against the chest, a sash that tied at the waist, and two good-sized front pockets. Probably okay for guys and slim, petite girls, but for tall, curvy women like me that little bib wouldn’t cover enough chest area to keep the pasta sauce from splattering all over my blouse.

kitchen apron

Server aprons generally fall into two categories: with and without bib. Both types featured multiple pockets for holding a ticket book, cash, change…and whatever other necessities a waiter or waitress might need to work efficiently. Some seemed fancier than others to match the tone of upscale eateries as opposed to the more utilitarian-looking aprons seen in chain restaurants and coffee houses.

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There’s even been a resurgence of that 1950s favorite, the hostess apron. You know – the kind June Cleaver wore with her heels and pearls when she worked in the kitchen. (Okay, the younger crowd might not even know who June Cleaver was. Google it.)

June Cleaver

It seems to me that the industry now produces just about every single-purpose apron one might imagine. What seems lacking is a good, old-fashioned grandmother’s apron.

I started my online apron research because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen…and I mean a LOT of time. I already own at least half a dozen aprons and while some are more useful than others, none do an adequate job of keeping my clothes clean and stain-free. I thought about ordering a chef’s coat. That should keep the marinara off of my favorite concert t-shirt! But what about the other activities that keep me busy throughout the day? The gardening, the laundry, the housecleaning…? Heck, I would gather eggs if the city where I live didn’t frown on residents keeping live chickens.

chef coat

No, what I really need is wardrobe of aprons wardrobe like my Grandma Creech wore. The primary purpose, of course, was to protect her clothing. And it did so regardless of the task at hand. With a waist-to-neckline bib large enough to cover her ample bosom, nothing would slop on the bodice of her house dress or her Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. The skirt of the apron was gathered and full, wrapping around and almost meeting in the back. It featured two large pockets in the skirt and a smaller pocket in the bib, which held her ever-present handkerchief.

Grandma’s apron was omni-purpose, a feature lacking in modern aprons.

I fondly recall sitting with her while we snapped green beans. The apron stretched across her lap held the newly-harvested produce. As we worked, the snapped off ends went back into her apron and the beans went into the cook pot. When we were finished, she gathered the waste in her apron skirt and transported it to the compost heap where, with one good shake, it was deposited.

On laundry day, she filled those immense pockets with clothespins before she carried a basket of newly washed bed linens to the back yard and hung them to dry in the sunshine. Nothing compared to the fresh scent of those summer-air-dried sheets and pillowcases.

More than once I saw Grandma run a stray dog out of the yard by flapping her apron and yelling “Shoo!” That same fluttering garment served as a signal that the food was on the table and the young’uns had best come and get it while it was hot.

On occasion she even wiped away my childhood tears with that apron when a skinned knee, a broken doll, or some perceived mistreatment by an older sibling threatened to ruin my life forever.

Ah…those were the days.

More to the point, those were the best aprons.

I haven’t abandoned my quest, although it appears I may have to search out a pattern and put my limited sewing skills to work if I want some really useful aprons.

Gosh, I wish I had my Grandma’s apron!

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If you were a homemaker in the 1970s, odds are that a kitchen witch adorned your galley, magically preventing pots from boiling over, milk from curdling, and roasts from burning.

She may have been riding a wooden spoon or a whisk instead of the traditional broom. And she may have resembled a plump crone or a sexy maiden. Regardless of their appearances, transferring such talismans brought good luck to both the giver and the recipient, enhancing their popularity as housewarming gifts.

The tradition is believed to have begun in Scandinavia, although there’s some debate over precisely which country gave birth to the practice. Regardless of the origin, the custom dates back hundreds of years to an era that modern Wiccans often refer to as “before the burning times.”

In those superstitious days, thousands of years ago, a prevalent belief existed that the fire heating stone ovens possessed magical, transformative powers. A large black cauldron hung over glowing embers tended by the women of the family became the center of the home. From this vessel, the witches (it wasn’t considered a negative term back then!) prepared food to sustain and herbal concoctions to heal.  These wise women played a vital role in the peasant communities.

We can learn much from the practices of these ancient healers. Our stoves, utensils, pots, pans, and ingredients are the magical tools with which we create nourishing, healthy, and delicious foods for our families and friends. If we educate ourselves on the properties of various herbs and other plants, we can use them not only to enhance flavors, but also to create chemical-free household cleansers and home remedies that effectively treat common maladies.

As one whose love for gardening is almost as intense as my enjoyment of cooking, I suppose I am a kitchen witch. Hearth and home are the center of my universe and I like to believe that – on a good day, at least – magic happens on my stovetop and in my oven.

I grow a variety of herbs in my gardens and at any given time you’ll find bundles of them hanging to dry in my kitchen.  Herbs can be expensive to purchase at the grocery store, but they’re easy and inexpensive to grow. It isn’t necessary to have a large garden plot or a serious green thumb to do it yourself. Most herbs grow happily in pots on a sunny window sill or planted in groups in a container on your deck or patio. They love to cohabitate flower beds with annual or perennial plantings or make themselves at home in vegetable gardens. Basil and tomato are wonderful companions…and what could be more welcoming than the pleasant aroma of lavender greeting visitors at your front door?

A comprehensive discussion of herbs and their uses would be far too lengthy for a blog post. Perhaps we’ll visit the topic more in the future. But for now, I’ll provide you with a list of my five favorite herbs and some (perhaps unexpected) uses for them.

  • Sage is a lovely perennial herb. Once established, it will come back year after year. It pairs deliciously with poultry, sausages, fish, and roasted root vegetables. In the garden, it attracts pollinators and repels cabbage moths, so plant it alongside broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts. Combined with white vinegar and a drop or two of dish detergent, sage makes a delightfully scented all-purpose cleaner. Infuse sage and lavender together and mix with water to create a wonderfully fragrant linen spray that will leave your bedroom smelling fresh. It is believed to repel bedbugs, so carry a small spray bottle with you when you travel and apply it to the linens in your hotel room. Couldn’t hurt, right? That lavender and sage infusion mixed with Epsom salts makes a soothing, relaxing bath blend – great for soaking sore muscles from all that work you did in the garden and even better bottled in a pretty container to give to a friend.

 

  • Rosemary is possibly my favorite herb. Where I live, the winters get too cold for rosemary to winter over successfully in the garden, but in warmer zones it is a perennial herb that grows heartily into an ornamental shrub. It pairs most famously with lamb, but also enhances pork, beef, and chicken as well as roasted vegetables…especially potatoes. Its earthy, woodsy aroma makes it a natural air freshener. If you combine rosemary with peppermint and dry rice and sew the concoction into a small pillow, you have a fantastic treatment for sinusitis or migraine. Just lie down for thirty minutes or so with the pillow over your closed eyes and you’ll likely feel some relief from your headache. A word of caution: this remedy should not be used by folks who have seizure disorders because both rosemary and peppermint are highly aromatic and could possibly trigger an episode.

 

  • Basil is an annual herb, so in outdoor gardens it must be replanted yearly. If you grow tomatoes, plant your basil right alongside them. These two are as fine companions in the garden as they are in marinara sauce. And without basil where would pesto be? I generally plant both green and purple basil, primarily because I can’t decide which variety is the prettier plant. It may be an old wives’ tale, but I’ve heard that if you chew a basil leaf to release the oils and then apply it to a recent insect bite or sting, it will draw out the venom and help ease the pain. Some believe basil has both antibiotic and antibacterial properties and it’s said to calm the digestion. (Would this be why so many Italian recipes call for the herb?)

 

  • Peppermint (and all other members of the mint family) should be grown with caution. It is highly invasive and spreads faster than wildfire. I recommend growing it in a glazed container on a saucer…and checking frequently to make certain no roots have escaped. It’s also important to keep it well trimmed so that it doesn’t go to seed. As mentioned above, peppermint is highly aromatic, so if some does escape into your lawn, mowing it would at least be a pleasant olfactory experience. I originally started growing peppermint for the sole purpose of making Mint Juleps on Kentucky Derby Day, but I found that I enjoy it more when it’s infused into iced tea than when it’s muddled with whiskey. I also use it to make Mint Jelly, which is my favorite condiment to accompany lamb. Sachets stuffed with dried peppermint are great for deodorizing athletic shoes if one is diligent about inserting them every time the cross-trainers come off of one’s feet. Chewing peppermint leaves can freshen the breath and soothe the stomach.

 

  • Oregano is a member of the mint family. Although not as invasive as peppermint, precautions should be taken when you introduce this perennial herb into your garden. Trimming to control flowering is important and pulling up runners to maintain a compact plant makes it more attractive and less likely to overrun its neighbors. I grow both Greek Oregano and Golden Oregano in my garden. This herb lends a Mediterranean flavor to many dishes. We’re all familiar with its use in Italian herb blends, but one of my favorite uses is incorporating it into breads…especially focaccia. I love a slice of warm Greek oregano bread dipped in garlic-flavored olive oil. Yum! You’ll find the golden variety in most of my recipes for marinades. It does something quite magical to the flavor of roast beef. According to Medical News Today, oregano is believed to contain antioxidants and may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

 

Including herbs in our proverbial “bag of tricks,” contributes to our kitchen success. So, stir that cauldron (or stock pot), with the blade of your charmed athamé (or maybe just a wooden spoon!), and throw in some fresh or dried herbs to create some stovetop magic.

And, please…don’t say “Kitchen Witch” like it’s a bad thing.

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