The herb garden has become one of my passions. I moved to this farm in the late 2000’s and one of the first things we did was dig into the soil to plant a garden for vegetables, flowers and herbs. I added a patch for raspberry bushes and blueberries later that first year. I spent many summers at my grandparents farm in Michigan and they had a beautiful vegetable garden but with their sandy soil so close to lake Michigan, they were able to grow many more fruit varieties.
My grandmother canned and preserved everything that was grown. I remember as a kid having a little white ironstone bowl of fresh or canned fruits depending on the time of year every morning. It was how my brother and I started out our day at their farm. I have those dishes in my cupboard today and every once in a while I too serve fruits in them. I learned so much from my grandmother even though I was no more than 12 or 13 years old. The memory of her providing for us in a simple and country way, using the cook stove in the farm kitchen, baking bread, being very much connected to the land and soil stayed with me and I believe, have passed this onto my own girls.
For centuries, productive gardens have been the focal point of family and community. In fact, it is a focal point of survival. Being able to grow food was critical to the well being of the family and excess for the well being of the community. During this pandemic, I believe we have come to appreciate and understand this value as food supply and supply chains seem to be short on occasion and the usual plentiful aisles and butcher counters are not so full as we knew them to be. I have followed along in our online world and seen how many people have become interested in cooking and growing a pot of herbs or tomato and vegetable plants in containers inside apartments or on small patios. This direct connection to food has become important and meaningful to our existence today for many who have not necessarily been thinking in this way.
For us here at the farm, the vegetables and herb gardens have expanded over the years allowing a bounty for not just my family but my community of visitors who have come out to enjoy a meal. On a personal level, with events not in our immediate future, I am drawn back to the kitchen garden where I have a variety of herbs and some heritage variety of fruits, elderberry, gooseberry, black and red currants, strawberries. It is a patch of fertile soil where in previous years, the goats, pigs and chickens made their home. As our kitchen expanded, the animals moved off to another part of the farm leaving a nutritious rich patch of soil behind and me an opportunity to grow all the herbs that I want – and then some!
Herbs interest me on many levels. My cooking is not complicated and even when I started holding events here at the farm, I cooked produce and meats in similar ways – fresh herbs, garlic, grill over fire. I expanded the herb garden to grow greater varieties for use in my kitchen, there are literally hundreds of herbs that can be grown yet we have so few available to us in the grocery store. The Fines Herbes medley of chervil, tarragon, chives and parsley is one of my favourites blended and infused in salt or in a vinaigrette – but try to find chervil in the store!
Fresh herbs also add a dimension to cooking that is difficult to replace with dried – sprinkling fresh chives in a salad, over steamed beans or peas, fresh tarragon with grapes and butter lettuce, or steeping mint in water for a fresh summer drink, sweet woodruff in white wine in early spring. I have so many ideas to share about using and preserving fresh herbs and plan to make it a goal to post a recipe or tip a week about my garden that you may find useful!
The corona virus may have some very positive effects on our way of cooking and thinking about food. It is possible that the views about where our food comes from and the value we place on delicious, farm grown food perhaps – I hope – may shift. Were we able to get every ingredient over the past several months when we wanted to prepare dinner or make do with what was in the pantry? Having a little plot or pot with a few fresh herbs and vegetables makes it simple – use what’s growing and season sparsely and simply. I am looking forward to a quiet summer and thinking through ideas. It isn’t often we get this opportunity to pause and reflect. I’m going to enjoy it and relish in teaching myself as much as I can.