Thyme is one of my favourite herbs. Although wild thyme grows well in Britain, the common thyme we generally use in cooking is a native of Mediterranean countries.
It was popular with the ancient Greeks, who enjoyed its fragrant, slightly sweet flavour. In this country this useful evergreen has been used since the Middle Ages. It is used to flavour soups, casseroles and rich meats, thyme isn’t associated with any one type of meat, so is very versatile.
Common thyme grows to a height of 20cms with a spread of around 30cms, it is ideal for pot growing and will remain good to harvest for several years.
Lemon thyme which as its name suggests has a clean, lemony flavour which can be used and grown
in the same way as common thyme, though it goes well with strong flavoured fish , like mackerel.
Both species of thyme grow best in a well-drained soil, in a sunny position. A young plant has tender stems and both leaf and stem can be added directly to food , but an older, more established plant has woody stems and it is advisable to remove the leaves from the stem, discarding the latter as it does not break down in cooking. The leaves are easily removed by sliding the finger and thumb along the stem , the leaves should easily come away, any remaining leaves may be pinched off.
Thyme has often been used medicinally through the ages and I find it one of the best gargles and mouthwashes one can use when you have a sore throat. It contains a powerful antiseptic which is good to fight and soothe infection. A simple gargle can be made from steeping a few stems of thyme in boiling water , crush the leaves with a fork and allow the mixture to cool , strain the liquid and store in a clean jug in the fridge . This will keep for two days and can be used when necessary , but do not swallow.
Thyme is an all important ingredient in the classic bouquet garni and is one of the most useful herbs. It is best added half-way into cooking time for soups and casseroles or rubbed onto joints of meat or cuts of fish . It can be chopped finely and a little added to fruit juices and salad dressings to give depth of flavour. One of the ways I like using thyme is to replace basil in recipes as I’m not fond of the flavour of it .Thyme goes particularly well in tomato based dishes used to coat pasta , the following recipe can be used as a basis for many recipes to go with pasta.
1 can of plum tomatoes
1/3 tube tomato puree
1 medium onion- finely chopped
3 stalks thyme
1 garlic clove
1 level teaspoon unrefined sugar
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for frying
Fry the onion gently till transparent . Add tomato puree , garlic and can of tomatoes, chop tomatoes in pan a little to help cooking time. Add thyme ,sugar and season . Cover and leave to simmer gently for 45 mins.
This sauce may have many other ingredients added to during cooking, choose one or more of the following as you wish, but the sauce in its simplest form with cooked pasta or gnocci sprinkled with parmesan cheese is stunning.
At the start of cooking gently fried minced pork or beef,
Half-way through , mushrooms or sweet peppers,
Just before cooking is complete add mussels, clams or prawns .
Because of thyme’s constant availability there is little need to freeze or dry the herb, but the older stems may be picked and tied in bunches and hung to dry.
This sweetly aromatic herb is used to flavour fish and chicken most commonly , but once again is a versatile herb .
A tarragon plant can grow up to 600cms and cover 310 cms . It grows best in a sunny spot in well manured and free draining soil. Once established the plant needs very little attention except the pinching out of flowering stems as they appear. Keep the plants well-watered during dry weather and use regularly to ensure a constant supply.
Tarragon is used to complement seafood cocktails and added to eggs either scrambled or as an omelete.
It can be ground with parsley, chives and sea-salt and mixed into a white wine sauce with butter to complement white fish dishes.
My favourite way to use tarragon is by making a flavoured vinegar.
Half fill a litre sized jar with young fresh tarragon leaves. Top up with white wine vinegar ,cover and leave for 4 weeks . Strain vinegar into clean bottles placing a fresh sprig of tarragon in each bottle after straining. Use in salad dressings and sauces for white fish and chicken.
Tarragon is suitable for freezing and drying.