I know. I can’t bear it either — the reality that summer is practically over. I makes me want to hold on to our delicious September light as long as I can. I think I’ve come up with a way to make the transition from outdoor to indoor living the tiniest bit easier. I know it’s hard to go back inside but just hear me out.
If I had a friend lucky enough to go on vacation this summer to the South of France, the one thing I’d want as consolation for being left behind would be a little clay pot of Herbes de Provence — a taste of the earth preferably from a village of traditional food artisans. Since none of my friends actually went to France and I’ve put off any dream vacations for a time when I’ve got a little more padding in my bank account, I’m going to try to make time in the next few weeks to fully take in the beauty here at home — a staycation of sorts. What am I doing during my staycation? For one thing, I’ve made a blend of herbs from our mediterranean summer right here in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve felt the primal urge to gather up summer’s bounty (partly inspired by the squirrels wildly racing around my backyard). Aromatic herbs are plentiful here — grown in our soil with our sunlight. Granted it may not be as quaint as Provence and the flavors may not hold us over until next summer but it’s a little something to savor while your pickles are pickling or until you can justify pulling produce out of the freezer. You might even consider making a little extra to share with friends and family who are nostalgic about their summer visit to our part of the country.
Herbes de Pacific Northwest — not surprisingly very similar, if not identical to those you’d find in Herbes de Provence, only with our special local taste. In case you’re wondering — I didn’t grow all of these perfect herbs in my own garden. I grew some, begged some from Sally and the rest came from the farmers market grown by Blong’s Garden in Carnation. They aren’t a certified organic farm, but they don’t use any pesticides or herbicides.
If you’re wondering what herbs to grow in your garden, this blend is an excellent list of choices for our climate: rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, sage, fennel (for the seeds), savory, bay, lavender and basil. There seems to be some controversy about the use of lavender in the blend. Many traditional recipes from Provence include it and it grows well here. I’m going to use it sparingly so it doesn’t take the flavor off into a overly perfumey direction. And basil, I urge you to grow some, even a lot and use it everyday during the summer. Freeze what you can’t consume, blended with olive oil. I left it out of my blend because it simply loses too much personality when dried. Savory is new to me but is reportedly an excellent mate with beans. I’m anxious to try it with the shell beans that have started appearing at the farmers market.
If you buy bundles of herbs from the farmers market, remove the rubber bands and spread stems out on a paper towel to absorb any water. This is a good idea when you cut them from your yard too. You can just leave them on the counter to dry or tie them in loose bundles and dry in a warm, preferably dark place. The best time to cut herbs for drying is right before they bloom. It’s a little late for that in my garden but the farmers market came to the rescue.
Herbes de Pacific Northwest
3 T dried oregano
3 T dried thyme
3 T dried crushed rosemary
1 T savory
1 T dried marjoram
1 T dried sage
1 T fennel seeds
1 T dried tarragon
1 T dried crushed lavender
1 crushed bay leaf
The measurements are completely up to you. Use more of what you like, less or none of what you don’t. Use all of what you dry in one big mix or be more calculating. Create and adjust. You can also vary the blend depending on the dish you’re making if you store the herbs separately and mix as needed. Store in a tightly covered container out of the sunlight. They should last about 6 months.
To use Herbes de Pacific Northwest rub on meat, poultry or fish before roasting or grilling. Adding a little olive oil helps the herbs stick. For my grilled chicken, I made a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, dijon mustard and herbs. When you’re grilling, toss a pinch or two on the hot coals for an herby, smoky flavor. Roasted veggies are prepared the same way — add to olive oil and coat before cooking. Eggplant and zucchini are especially good this way. We’re getting closer to soup and stew weather, both are good uses for an herbal blend.
A recipe for a rustic Tomato Bread Pudding looks like a wonderful way to use your herbs.