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16 October 2014
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Autumn 2001
  Kitchen Garden - Herbs
   
 

Extending the Season for Fresh Herbs
by Barbara Pilcher

With shortening days and herbaceous plants beginning to die down, we realise with a jolt that the sheer abundance of food and flavour from the garden is diminishing. This needn't be a cause for despondency, as there are many ways to keep things going right through the winter. The golden rule is to think seasonally. For instance, although it is possible to keep basil growing on indoors, unless you have ideal conditions and very green fingers, this can be frustrating. I like to harvest lots of basil while the flavour is intense, make it into pesto and store that for use with pasta, in soups and casseroles and roasted vegetables. For fresh herbs I turn to some of the hardier ones. Herbs that manage to provide for us right through the year without any particular attention include rosemary, all the thymes, fennel, lovage and some of the marjorams. Then there are those that repay a little forethought and attention, for example chervil, parsley, chives.

Chervil
Chervil is one of the fines herbes along with French tarragon and chives, that elegant subtle trio lavishly included in many classic French dishes. I use it with salads, sauces, fish , when I want lots of green and a fine but delicate flavour to enhance the dish.
Maintaining a supply of fresh chervil is child's play, from young plants available in autumn or from seed. I recommend sowing in small drills in the open ground in late summer - it will then germinate quickly and make lovely clumps of bright green ferny foliage that you can pick from all winter. Hardier than parsley and easier to germinate, I don't know why it is not more widely grown here. Once you have chervil established it will self-seed and you will have it every year, at its best in winter just when you need it for salads, potato soups, chervil sauce. A small warning - if you have a back-to-nature garden you may have several chervil relatives such as cow-parsley seeding around, some of which are poisonous. This is one reason that we sow in drills, so we can distinguish the plants from the weeds. Once you get to know that foliage and that aroma, there is no problem of mis-identification.

Parsley
Never boring, everlastingly and ubiquitously popular, parsley is the mainstay of the winter kitchen garden. It looks good in clumps as a foil for other plants, makes a luxuriant edging and is a great plant in containers, try it with winter pansies! While parsley is reasonably hardy, it shows its appreciation of a little protection by doing even better in cold frames or the greenhouse or a specially sheltered spot during the bleakest winter spells. Plants can be lifted and planted under protection for the winter - it's a good idea to have some in an easily accessible spot so that you don't have to trek down to the bottom of the garden in a blizzard! Even a pot by the kitchen door, covered with a solar dome, well pegged down,will supply you with parsley in the harshest weather. Plants and trays of seedlings are usually readily available for autumn planting. I like to sow a few seeds per cell of a module tray in sterile John Innis compost. When germinated, the groups of seedlings can be potted on into 5 cm pots until they are big enough to plant out or put onto containers. It's good to get in the habit of sowing parsley twice each year: in spring to keep you provided all summer and in early autumn to carry on through the winter until the next season's crop is established.
There are two main types of parsley, curled and flat-leaf. Several cultivars of each are available; my regular favourites are 'Moss Curled' and Italian (flat-leaf) such as 'Gigante di Napoli'. Both are excellent; the curled is great for snipping quickly and for garnishing, while the flat-leaf maybe has the edge for flavour and looks elegant on the plate. I wouldn't be without either.

Chives
Chives are one of that delectable trio fines herbes, along with tarragon and chervil. There is so much you can do with a bunch of chives and so many ways you can cut them, short and neat or the very fine stick chives cut over a centimetre long. However you use them, they add an invaluable mild savoury onion-ness in the most refined manner. Perhaps the easiest of herbs to grow, plants are available all year round and they are surprisingly easy from seed. You just need to harvest them frequently to keep the fine new growth coming. Always have a clump in flower as the individual florets are delightful scattered over salads and soups as a garnish - really tasty too! There are several sorts of chives to choose from apart from the common or garden variety. Fine-leaved and giant are at opposite ends of the diameter spectrum. There are forms with pink flowers rather than the usual and white forms, some with a smudge of pale pink in the centre. Garlic or Chinese chives, Allium tuberosum, are a treat not to be missed with their handsome tall stemmed white flowerheads, deep green flat leaves and hint of garlic. These are great in garlic butter, or used anywhere you want that subtle onion/garlic twist.

Planting a herb trough| Compost heaps, seakale and rhubarb | Harvesting, drying and storage | Extending the season for fresh herbs | Autumn Kitchen Garden | Winter herbs | February sowing | Soil Preparation | April Kitchen Garden

 

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