This favourite is often only used as green garnish scattered over potato salad or egg mayonnaise and what a trick is being missed! One of my lockdown pastimes has been revisiting some of my old recipe books and then trying to be creative making meals of out of all the store cupboard oddments. Some have been a great success – others have not been quite so popular (beetroot and marigold pilau rice was a low point in some people’s view – I quite liked it).
Chive leaves are usually added at the end of cooking to give a mild onion flavour – over cook and their flavour will disappear. In French cuisine chives are a consitutent part of fines herbes (finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil) which is used to add a delicate flavour to savory dishes at the end of cooking. Chives can be chopped into soft cheese or sour cream as a dressing.
But in my view one of the best uses of chives is the freshly opened flowers. Picked before fully open they provide a peppery addition to salads as well as looking stunning against the green of lettuce.
In my lockdown experimental mode I was making coleslaw and didn’t want to deplete the dwindling onion stocks so wondered how to add some life to a pretty bland cabbage concoction? My cheery chives came to mind – I picked a barely open flower and removed all the petals from the head and scattered them into the coleslaw. It gave a wonderful oniony, peppery flavour and I wonder why I never thought about it before and so much quicker than peeling and chopping an onion .
A few random chive facts…
Chives allium schoenoprasum are unusual in that they grow wild in northern Europe and North America and Australia. Found throughout Asia it is thought that Marco Polo was responsible for bringing them to Europe where they have been cultivated since the Sixteenth Century.
The clump forming plant will tolerate most conditions and looks attractive when used as an edging plant in the herb or vegetable garden. Chives are said to repel insects and a wash made from their leaves and water is used to prevent mildew and apple scab.
Keep removing the flower heads and stems as througout the summer to ensure a continuous supply. Do not eat the flowering stems or flowers that have been open for a day or two as they are tough and unpalatable.
Chives are often used in companion planting as most insects do not like its smell but its cheery purple flowers are beloved by bees. A recent survey of pollinating plants placed chives among the top 10 nectar producing plants in the UK. So even if you don’t care for this herb make sure to grow some in your garden for the bees.
More recipe ideas can be found here – have look and experiment!
Nature is a an amazing thing just as the rhubarb comes into its own the angelica ( Angelica archangelica) raises its lofty head as if to say ‘here I am don’t forget how useful I am’
Before I started growing angelica I associated it with the sticky green candied variety used to decorate cakes and puddings. But now I know better. Fresh angelica is one of those amazing plants that reduces the acidity or sourness in fruit such as rhubarb and gooseberries so that much less sugar is needed to sweeten it.
The plant in the picture is in its third year and as you can see from the swollen stems near the top it is really trying to flower. The flower is a large umbelliferae (Apiaceae) blossom which is really quite beautiful. I have removed the flowers to try and prolong this plant’s life because once it flowers it will die. However, I feel that this one will probably sneak a flower or two when my back is turned and then gracefully fade in the autumn. But all will not be lost as each flower head produces literally hundreds of seeds which look a bit like fennel or cumin seeds. The seeds should be planted immediately as if kept there is a much lower germination rate. Before winter there will be lots of little seedlings ready to be planted out for next year and the promise of tender fresh angelica. I have just planted three plants into a different herb bed which I grew from last year’s seed just to make certain that the angelica supply will not cease.
So how to use angelica? The simplest use is adding a few leaves when your are stewing fruit and remove them before serving. ( People don’t really like seeing wilted leaves in their pudding). Taste the stewed fruit before adding sugar and you will be amazed that it not very sour – add sugar with care as you will probably need much much less than you would normally add.
A trip to a garden or a flower show is always a risky thing – it can generate a feeling of enthusiasm or a feeling of complete hopelessness when the realisation dawns that the perfection observed will never be achieved. So last Friday I set off to spend the day at the RHS Flower Show Cardiff with mixed feelings. It had been a long week and I was a bit tired so wasn’t sure if I could face seeing perfection knowing that I had left a lot of imperfection at home!
I needn’t have worried it was a perfect day. The Show was held in Bute Park, about 10 minutes walk from the station. It was just the right size to wander round for a day taking in the gardens, displays and the stalls. Being early in the year I was full of admiration for the exhibitors who had coaxed plants into flower or leaf but yet had not gone over the top to create false shows.
My favourites – well I do love auriculas and so loved seeing them in displays, gardens and also the stunning theatre on the Hill View Hardy Plants .(Sorry not the best photo but the display was lovely)
I bought my first auriculas about four years ago and now have quite a collection and this is exactly the time of year that they come into their own. Today I popped my parent plants of Brenda’s Choice, Piers Telford and Beatrice on the doorstep so that we can enjoy their flowers. My normal spot for building my auricula theatre has been taken up with a temporary log pile!
Back to the Flower Show favourites and another great one was the beautiful Hooksgreen Herb exhibit . Encouraging everyone to get involved in growing edible plants was the focus of The Pennard Plants and Growing for the Future at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales garden. The fantastic design made you want to rush home, create raised beds and get planting. But how practical is the perfectly designed raised bed? What happens when you eat one of the four leeks and leave a bald patch? So somewhere there needs to be a compromise between aesthetics and functionality. I think that the exhibits at the Show helped inspire and encourage all visitors to get gardening in a practical and manageable way.
So what’s happened in my garden since Friday – well more vegetable and herb seeds planted ( including some fenugreek, chervil, minette basil, red giant mustard – all bought at the show) . I also have planed some cute little boxes ( bought at the show) with lettuce, corriander and peas which will be cropped when they are young and tender for salads. ( I’ll let you know how the get on in future blogs)
In a bid to thwart the mice I have lifted the strawberry plants from open ground and replanted them in big pots and moved them under cover – maybe this year we will get a crop or maybe we won’t. And most importantly I have been extracting the tangled webs of ground elder from the main beds – oh why was this invasive ‘herb’ brought to Britain by the Romans. I know its edible- the young leaves can be used in salad, it can be cooked like spinach, used in quiches and many other dishes. But if like me you wage war on it in your garden I can only think that is would choke me if I tried to eat it!
How wonderful to see the delicate damson blossom coming to life – fingers crossed that the bees will do their work and the blossom set to form fruit without a nip of frost. I always long for a good damson crop and yet there is that little guilty secret that there are still damsons waiting to be processed in the freezer from last year. In honesty there are only so many damsons that can be used. My favourite recipes are damson gin, ice cream and jam. But more about those come autumn let’s focus on the spring…
Just as wonderful as the sight of the damson blossom are the first fresh light green leaves of lovage( levisticum officinale) as they emerge out of the soil. It’s a real sign of spring and one of the first perennial herbs to appear. It’s hard to believe that the cluster of fresh leaves will quickly turn into the more than 2m high giant that dominates the back of the herb bed.I have two lovage plants growing within 3m of each other- one that starts with bronze tinged leaves and the other a darker green. After a month or two it is almost as if they are competing to see who can dominateand by mid August they are towering above everything else even the neighbouring elecampane.
Lovage has a very distinctive celery like smell and flavour and is one of those ingredients that must be used with caution or it completely takes over. It is rarely grown and I wonder is that due to its size or to the power of its flavour as a little goes a long way. But as with most things in life it is wonderful in moderation and can be used in stocks, stews and soups instead of celery.
In my enthusiasm for using green produce as they appear at this time of year I always make lovage soup. My version is simply adding a few finely chopped leaves to a basic carrot, onion and potato soup made with a good (preferably chicken) stock whizzing it and adding a little swirl of cream on top as I serve it. I think it is the essence of spring capturing all that fresh green goodness that is bursting forth in the garden into your bowl. Unfortunately the rest of the house just roll their eyes and say ‘here she goes again – it will be nettle soup next.’ But I draw the line at making nettle soup – I do like it but find the smell of cooking nettles puts me off so my family are safe for another year!
Once again this year I vow to try and use more lovage as I make stocks, soups and stews. I should investigate its deodorizing and antiseptic properties by infusing a few leaves in my bath – it may well help with achy post gardening bones . Or maybe I will put the leaves in my shoes to revive my weary feet just like the travellers in the Middle Ages.