Category Archives: Herb Highlights

Chives – in vinegar form

Chives

Chives

 

Remember how Morticia Addams ceremoniously cut the rose blossoms off of her rose bushes?  Well, much to the objection of the many bees and other pollinating insects attracted to chive flowers, I do the same with fully opened chive blossoms. It’s not that I dislike chive blossoms, au contraire … Tish, you spoke French! … it’s that I love the flavor of chive vinegar, and without chive blossoms, vinegar is just vinegar.

To make chive vinegar, you first need a stash of attractive glass jars with corked or screw-on lids – our passion for homemade margaritas insures I have ample cork-topped Patron tequila bottles like the one in the photo below – but you can purchase fancy glass, cork-topped jars at many kitchen supply stores.  Just be sure to use glass jars (non-reactive to vinegar) and the openings are wide enough to accept the flowers without crushing them.

Chive vinegar after 2 days

Chive vinegar after 2 days

 

The Morticia Addams act comes next.  After morning dew has dried – when herbs are freshest – snap fully opened chive blossom off their stalks (in the photo above, the largest blossoms are ready for harvest).  Avoid those with browning tinges of browning on the individual florets, as these are past prime.rop about a cup or so of blossoms to a clean jar, and fill the jars with clear or cider vinegar.  Sit the jars out of direct sunlight – where you can watch the vinegar take on the color of the chives.

 

 

 

Chive vinegar - strained

Chive vinegar - strained

Over the next months, the vinegar will take on a chive flavor.  When ready to use, pour the flavored vinegar through a paper towel or coffee filter lined funnel to strain out the chive blossoms.  It will look similar to the jar at the right.

Make enough chive vinegar for winter use and to share with family and friends.  This concoction adds a distinct flavor to any recipe calling for regular vinegar, such as homemade salad dressing, vegetable marinade, and warm potato salad.  For the most tender and moist roasted chicken, pour one cup of chive vinegar over a small chicken and a few garlic cloves, sprinkle the chicken with your choice of dried herb (thyme, basil, rosemary), cover, and bake until done.

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Herb Highlights – Chives

Chives

Chives

Mention chives and most people think of the green, often freeze-dried, baked potato topping offered in restaurants.  Cooks who venture to try fresh or freeze-dried, store-bought chives may balk at their cost.  However, those who grow these perennial herbs can fully enjoy fresh chive flavor – at minimal cost – from spring through fall.

Chives grow best in rich, well-drained locations, in full to part sun, forming 12 to 18 inch tall clumps.  This, plus their eye-catching flowers make them attractive additions to herb, perennial, and vegetable beds.  Chives also grow well in containers and, like many herbs, are rarely attacked by harmful insects or nibbled by deer.  As a companion plant, chives purportedly benefit roses, carrots, grapes, and tomatoes when adjacently planted.  Just be sure to place your nursery-purchased or seed-grown chives where they are easily reached – once you experience them fresh from the garden, you’ll never be satisfied with freeze dried substitutes again.

Chives, foxglove, and iris

Chives, foxglove, and iris

The globe shaped flowers of Allium schoenoprasum are just now opening in my Connecticut gardens.  Their lilac to mauve tinted blossoms blend nicely with iris, and with blue and pink flowers. As I mentioned in my Herbs cultivate gardeners post, chive blossoms are also stunning with orange Oriental poppies – a combination I pulled off many years ago, before the age of digital photography.

Both chive flowers and leaves are edible.  Use whole flowers as a garnish or to make tasty chive vinegar (watch for a near future post on this), or break the flower globes into smaller pieces to add to green or pasta salads. 

When freshly snipped, the oniony flavor of  chives season marinades, and just about any type of vegetable, pasta, chicken, tuna, or egg salad.  Hint: cut chive leaves from the back, or unseen, side of the plant to keep clumps looking good; also, rather than slicing on a cutting board, simply hold a bunch of cut chives in one hand while snipping, with kitchen shears, from the tips of the bunch.  Snipped chives also freeze well in an airtight container, but use these in winter soups and cooked recipes, since thawed chives tend to become unappetizingly soft.  For a winter baked potato topping, either grow chives in pots in a sunny window and snip as needed, or sprinkle still frozen chives over baked potatoes.

Garlic chives in full September bloom

Garlic chives in full September bloom

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) which, as you might expect, taste more like garlic, grow much like their oniony cousins and can be similarly used.  But I’ve found garlic chives don’t freeze well and, unlike their spring blooming cousins, the enchanting white blossoms of garlic chives open in late summer.  My one word of caution– read about my garlic chive faux pas – is to not let garlic chives go to seed unless you want many, many ‘volunteer’ plants in subsequent years.

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Herb Highlights – Cilantro

In my southern Connecticut garden, cilantro is an easy to grow “annual” herb.  Cilantro is the leafy portion of coriander – making this herb doubly useful if you are also looking to harvest coriander seeds.  Generally sowed in early spring, this 18 inch tall – or so – airy plant quickly provides enough greens to add a fresh zip to salsas and Latin dishes but, like dill, it does not take up a lot of space.

Overwintered cilantro by April

Overwintered cilantro by April

 

 

Sow seeds directly into the garden in early spring, keeping the soil evenly moist while waiting for the seeds to sprout and the plants get established.  Then water regularly and thin out plants (using any tiny thinnings in the kitchen) so they are about 4-5 inches apart.  As the plants grow use the leaves as much as possible before the temperatures warm and the plants go to flower.  Snipping the tops of the plants slows flowering, but only somewhat.  Once the plants decide to set seed, I leave a few in place to allow seed heads to ripen to a light brown and harden. Then I sprinkle them in assorted bare spots in the garden and water/watch until they sprout.  These late sown plants provide a late summer harvest, but I always save some to overwinter under a cold frame.  As the weather chills in early fall, I transplant small cilantro plants into pots (to keep them from becoming vole food), sink these in the ground, and cover the area with a small cold frame.  I water these plants about once a week or as needed until the real cold sets in.  Then I forget about the plants, only checking on their need for water during winter thaws.  When spring nears I pick up on the watering and vent the cold frame so the plants don’t cook on warm, sunny days.  Once nighttime freezing temperatures stop, I remove the cold frame to allow the plants’ rapid growth.  The overwintered plants provide an even earlier supply of cilantro than their early spring-sowed cousins.

 

Even with limited edible gardening space, I have yet to plant too much cilantro.  Any freshly harvested stalks not immediately used will store well with stem ends set in a small amount of water in a refrigerated container.  Alternately, washed stems and leaves can be loosely rolled in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the frig (this method works well for most small leaved herbs).  When left to go to seed, dried coriander seeds are also easily stored and supposedly make nice additions to chili and homemade soup, but mine never make it this far as I cannot resist spreading seeds throughout the garden in hopes of a bumper cilantro crop.

 

Cilantro ‘Delfino’ (Coriandrum sativum), a 2006 All America award winner, grows well in my garden.  I cannot attest to whether or not deer forage on cilantro since I have always planted it in a fenced edible garden where I’m sure to closely watch for flowering.

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Seed adventures

Every growing season I try to choose at least one new-to-me plant to grow – it helps test my skills, keeps things interesting, and stretches my knowledge.  My choice last year was papaloquelite, an herb described as similar cilantro, and used in Central and South American foods.  My family and I love the flavor of cilantro – an herb I grow every year and will speak more on in a future Herb Highlights post – so trying papaloquelite seemed a logical next step.  But I was not successful when sowing the seeds outdoors, so this year I tried sowing the seeds remaining from the 2008 packet in flats inside, and so far they have sprouted.  I’ll likely transplant some of the seedlings to the vegetable garden, some in a perennial bed, and some in pots, just to get an idea of where they will grow best.  Papaloquelite is said to grow 4 to 6 feet tall, and produce many bluish green leaves when planted in full sun conditions similar to those preferred by tomatoes and peppers.  I’m looking forward to comparing the flavor of papaloquelite with that of cilantro … I’ll report back what I find.

 

This year I opted to try two greens I’ve not planted previously.  One is salad burnet, described as an easy, low growing plant with leaves that taste like cucumbers.  I’ll start salad burnet in pots so I can observe its growth and shape before I decide whether to place some directly into the garden or keep it in pots.

 

My other ‘new’ choice is tatsoi, a Chinese mustard used in salads and stir fry dishes.  Since tatsoi is a cool-weather plant, I’ll sow the seeds directly along the edge of a perennial bed. The dark green, low, rosette-shaped plant is said to make an attractive border.  If we like its flavor I’ll be able to sow tatsoi again in late summer to give us fresh greens again in the fall.

 

Check back for updates on how each of these varieties grow and produce.  I’d love to hear from other gardeners who have tried any of the above.

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Herbs cultivate gardeners

As tiny thyme leaves sprout from the mounds of last year’s growth, and mint begins to strengthen for this season’s explosive expansion, I am again reminded of the multiple utility and extensive merits of growing herbs.  Even as light, airy snowflakes fall from the sky on this chilly April day, I’m able to walk out of my kitchen door to snip from the clumps of chives as they continue their vertical push from the soil.

 

Herbs are ideal for the gardener with little time but a desire to grow beautiful and kitchen-worthy plants.  They are easy to establish, blend well into perennial, vegetable, or their own planting beds, rarely suffer from insect onslaught and for those living in deer country, many herbs are simply ignored by the furry foragers.  Figuring new ways to incorporate herbs into various planting scenarios can be as intoxicating as the fresh scent of lavender leaves or the crisp aroma of lightly brushed sage.

 

Many herb gardeners create formal or separate gardens for herbs as I did at a former home.  I planned out a circular bed consisting of four equally sized sections surrounding a center circle anchored by a birdbath encircled by thyme.  Each of the four surrounding beds held stands of oregano, chives, sage, lavender, and mint plus yellow coreopsis and orange poppies for color.  Empty spots held basil and dill.  I edged each bed with brick and kept grass for the pathways.  This garden provided continuous pleasure in it’s appearance – one year the mass of lavender flowered chives bloomed at the same time as the adjacent orange poppies to create show-stopping spectacle (unfortunately, prior to the age of digital photography) – and in its supply of fresh cut herbs.

 

But now, rather than keeping a formal bed, I spread herbs throughout my planting beds.  Here is santolina combined with reblooming iris.

santolina with variegated reblooming iris

santolina with variegated reblooming iris

 

Here chives offset iris in bloom.

Chives and iris

Chives and iris

 

Bookstores and libraries are loaded with resources on herbs and herb gardens.  One of my favorites: Herb Garden Design by Ethne Clarke, a hardcover filled with beautiful glossy shots of informal and formal designs and how to use various shaped and colored herbs in your overall landscape design.  The book also includes a comprehensive list of herbs, their hardiness zones, growth habits, and sun and moisture needs.

 

Once you start looking, you’ll find books on herbs for medicinal use, Shakespearean herbs, knot gardens, kitchen herb gardens or potagers, and potted herbs.  Others tout golden beds of herbs, or silver and white moon gardens – those using foliage that reflects moonlight.  The possibilities for using herbs are nearly endless.

 

Check back here regularly for my series, Herb Highlights – focused reports on each herb I’ve grown and how I’ve used it.

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