*NEW VERSION* Culinary Herbs
In these days of jaded appetites, condiments and canned goods, how fondly we turn from
the dreary monotony of the dainty menu to the memory of the satisfying dishes of our
mothers! What made us, like Oliver Twist, ask for more? Were those flavors real, or was
it association and natural, youthful hunger that enticed us? Can we ever forget them; or,
what is more practical, can we again realize them? We may find the secret and the answer
in mother's garden. Let's peep in.
The garden, as in memory we view it, is not remarkable except for its neatness and
perhaps the mixing of flowers, fruits and vegetables as we never see them jumbled on the
table. Strawberries and onions, carrots and currants, potatoes and poppies, apples and
sweet corn and many other as strange comrades, all grow together in mother's garden in
the utmost harmony.
All these are familiar friends; but what are those plants near the kitchen? They are
mother's sweet herbs. We have never seen them on the table. They never played
leading roles such as those of the cabbage and the potato. They are merely members of
the cast which performed the small but important parts in the production of the pleasing
tout ensemblesoup, stew, sauce, or saladthe remembrance of which, like that of a
well-staged and well-acted drama, lingers in the memory long after the actors are
Probably no culinary plants have during the last 50 years been so neglected. Especially
during the ready-to-serve food campaign of the closed quarter century did they suffer
most. But they are again coming into their own. Few plants are so easily cultivated and
prepared for use. With the exception of the onion, none may be so effectively employed
and none may so completely transform the left-over as to tempt an otherwise balky
appetite to indulge in a second serving without being urged to perform the homely duty
of eating it to save it. Indeed, sweet herbs are, or should be the boon of the housewife,
since they make for both pleasure and economy. The soup may be made of the most
wholesome, nutritious and even costly materials; the fish may be boiled or baked to
perfection; the joint or the roast and the salad may be otherwise faultless, but if they lack
flavor they will surely fail in their mission, and none of the neighbors will plot to steal the cook, as they otherwise might did she merit the reputation that she otherwise might, by
using culinary herbs.
This doleful condition may be prevented and the cook enjoy an enviable esteem by the
judicious use of herbs, singly or in combination. It is greatly to be regretted that the uses
of these humble plants, which seem to fall lower than the dignity of the title vegetable,
should be so little understood by intelligent American housewives.
In the flavoring of prepared dishes we Americanspeople, as the French say, of one
saucemight well learn a lesson from the example of the English matron who usually
considers her kitchen incomplete without a dozen or more sweet herbs, either powdered,
or in decoction, or preserved in both ways. A glance into a French or a German culinary
department would probably show more than a score; but a careful search in an American
kitchen would rarely reveal as many as half a dozen, and in the great majority probably
only parsley and sage would be brought to light. Yet these humble plants possess the
power of rendering even unpalatable and insipid dishes piquant and appetizing, and this,
too, at a surprisingly low cost. Indeed, most of them may be grown in an out-of-the-way
corner of the garden, or if no garden be available, in a box of soil upon a sunny
windowsilla method adopted by many foreigners living in tenement houses in New
York and Jersey City. Certainly they may be made to add to the pleasure of living and, as
Solomon declares, better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox with
It is to be regretted that the moving picture show and the soda water fountain have such
an influence in breaking up old-fashioned family evenings at home when everyone
gathered around the evening lamp to enjoy homemade dainties. In those good old days
the young man was expected to become acquainted with the young woman in the home.
The girl took pride in serving solid and liquid culinary goodies of her own construction.
Her mother, her all-sufficient guide, mapped out the sure, safe, and orthodox highway to
a man's heart and saw to it that she learned how to play her cards with skill and precision.
Those were the days when a larger proportion lived happy ever after than in modern
times, when recreation and refreshment are sought more frequently outside than inside
the walls of home.
But it is not too late to learn the good old ways over again and enjoy the good old
culinary dainties. Whoever relishes the summer cups that cheer but do not inebriate may
add considerably to his enjoyment by using some of the sweet herbs. Spearmint adds to
lemonade the pleasing pungency it as readily imparts to a less harmful but more notorious
beverage. The blue or pink flowers of borage have long been famous for the same
purpose, though they are perhaps oftener added to a mixture of honey and water, to grape
juice, raspberry vinegar or strawberry acid. All that is needed is an awakened desire to re-
establish home comforts and customs, then a little later experimentation will soon fix the herb habit.
The list of home confections may be very pleasingly extended by candying the aromatic
roots of lovage, and thus raising up a rival to the candied ginger said to be imported from
the Orient. If anyone likes coriander and carawayI confess that I don'the can sugar
the seeds to make those little comfits, the candies of our childhood which our mothers
tried to make us think we liked to crunch either separately or sprinkled on our birthday
cakes. Those were before the days when somebody's name was stamped on every piece
to aid digestion. Can we ever forget the picnic when we had certain kinds of sandwiches?
Our mothers minced sweet fennel, the tender leaves of sage, marjoram or several other
herbs, mixed them with cream cheese, and spread a layer between two thin slices of
bread. Perhaps it was the swimming, or the three-legged racing, or the swinging, or all
put together, that put a razor edge on our appetites and made us relish those sandwiches
more than was perhaps polite; but will we not, all of us who ate them, stand ready to
dispute with all comers that it was the flavors that made us forget our manners?
But sweet herbs may be made to serve another pleasing, an æsthetic purpose. Many of
them may be used for ornament. A bouquet of the pale pink blossoms of thyme and the
delicate flowers of marjoram, the fragrant sprigs of lemon balm mixed with the bright
yellow umbels of sweet fennel, the finely divided leaves of rue and the long glassy ones
of bergamot, is not only novel in appearance but in odor. In sweetness it excels even
sweet peas and roses. Mixed with the brilliant red berries of barberry and multiflora rose,
and the dark-green branches of the hardy thyme, which continues fresh and sweet through
the year, a handsome and lasting bouquet may be made for a midwinter table decoration,
a fragrant reminder of Shakespeare's lines in A Winter's Tale: Here's flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun
And with him rises weeping.
The rare aroma of sweet marjoram reminds so many city people of their mother's and
their grandmother's country gardens, that countless muslin bags of the dried leaves sent to
town ostensibly for stuffing poultry never reach the kitchen at all, but are accorded more
honored places in the living room. They are placed in the sunlight of a bay window where
Old Sol may coax forth their prisoned odors and perfume the air with memories of
childhood summers on the farm.
Other memories cling to the delicate little lavender, not so much because the owner of a
well-filled linen closet perfumed her spotless hoard with its fragrant flowers, but because
of more tender remembrances. Would any country wedding chest be complete without its
little silk bags filled with dried lavender buds and blooms to add the finishing touch of
romance to the dainty trousseau of linen and lace? What can recall the bridal year so
surely as this same kindly lavender?
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