Saturday, August 19, 2017

Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Herbes de Provence, just about everyone has heard it and it sounds really fancy, but is actually very easy to make from your own kitchen herb garden.  The origin is simply a mix of herbs that were typically grown in a French kitchen garden called a potager.  

You get a huge amount of herb from each plant.  It is so simple to dry them and make your own special herb mix.  You'll find that you actually get enough from only one herb plant of each kind that you will have enough for year round cooking and to make Christmas presents for the entire family!

“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  These are the herbs typically used in cooking by the French in this region:

The French gardeners didn't actually mix them all together into a spice mix.  This was the idea of a spice company in France and has spread throughout the world.  Today, these spice mixes aren't actually grown and processed in France, but in central/eastern Europe, Africa and China.

You can easily grow these herbs and make your own spice mix.  All are perennial herbs with the exception of basil and rosemary in northern climes.  You can keep rosemary and basil n a pot and bring them indoors to overwinter.

Herbs are the easiest thing to grow in the edible garden and how I got my start.  1 tablespoon of fresh herbs is equal to 1 teaspoon of dried herbs.  For more on growing herbs, click here  Start a kitchen herb garden!


Purple lavender
White lavender
Some mixes also contain lavender flowers.  Lavender is not actually used in southern French cooking, but can be a fun addition to the spice mix.

I save my lavender to use as potpourri and scented oils.  Lavender is also great to put in closets to make them smell fabulous and to deter moths.

Another fun way to use dried lavender is mixing with sugar.  
Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts


Creeping thyme
English thyme
Thyme comes in many forms and flavors.  You can grow variegated (leaves are green and white) lemon thyme, creeping thyme, orange thyme, English, German, or French thyme.

The leaves are best when in bloom.

Thyme is used in many dishes.  Suits food particularly well that are cooked in wine.  If using fresh, a little goes a long way.  

Thyme is a key ingredient in poultry seasoning as well.  Make poultry seasoning with your own garden herbs

Oregano/marjoram are of the same family.  Oregano and marjoram are cold sensitive perennials.  I have been growing my oregano in Zone 6 for 5 years and it comes back faithfully.  Oregano is also called wild marjoram and marjoram is also called sweet marjoram.  They are very similar in form and taste.  The pollinators love oregano’s tall purple blooms.  For preserving, gather just before the flowers open.
Common rosemary is a tender perennial and does not survive the winter in our Zone 6 garden.  There are hardier varieties of rosemary that you can get like ARP and Barbecue.  They are said to be hardy to Zone 5.  I keep trying them in our Zone 6/7 garden but so far have only been able to get them to survive one winter at best.  I am trying ARP and a new hardy variety this year Tuscan Blue.  Eventually, I will find one that likes my garden well enough to stay permanently.

You can always keep your rosemary in a pot and bring indoors to over winter.  If you live in warmer zones of 8 or above, rosemary can become a very large bush reaching 5 feet tall!
Young rosemary plant
There are two types of savory-winter and summer.  Winter savory is a perennial and summer savory an annual.  The leaves for drying should be picked just as the flower buds are formed.
Winter savory
Everyone is familiar with basil.  Basil is used in so many dishes.  One of our favorites is pesto.  It is great in tomato sauces, as an infusion for oils or vinegars, or in salads.  Basil was found to be growing around Christ’s tomb after the resurrection so is used by some to prepare holy water.  Pick leaves when young.  The more you pick, the bushier the plant becomes.   Pick often!  
Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Basil in August

Tarragon is a less common herb here.  There are two varieties-Russian and French.  The French has a more “refined” flavor, but is not as hardy.  The Russian is hardy and the flavor improves the longer it grows in one place.  Tarragon spreads underground like mint so it can be a good one to grow in a pot.  It grows 2-3’.  Tarragon can be harvested anytime.  Don’t cut more than two thirds at a time.  I like to add tarragon to salads.  It is also popular as an infusion for oils and vinegars, to flavor chicken and is a key ingredient in BĂ©arnaise sauce.

Sage is a perennial and comes in a variety of flavors and colors-clara, pineapple, purple, tricolor, gold variegated, prostate, and purple variegated to name a few.  They are a required ingredient in my mother-in-laws stuffing.  Use your own herbs for your Thanksgiving dinner    Sage smells wonderful too to add to potpourri, as a tea or all by itself.  Make your own teas!

Tricolor variegated sage

Since these herbs naturalized in the Mediterranean region, they enjoy dry conditions so they do not need to be coddled.  They grow easily under any conditions, except wet.  They hate wet feet so err to the side of dryness.

Fall is a great time to start any perennial, including herbs.  Many big box stores are carrying herbs and fall plants so you don't have to wait to next spring to start your own herb garden!  Many grow easily from seed, too.  It is fine to start plants this time of year and plant out in the garden.  Just be sure to harden off for the heat as you would for the cold in the spring and keep moist.

How to dry your herbs?  I do my harvesting this time of year into the fall.  I cut them back and place the stems loosely in paper bags to dry.  Hanging the bags so they get good air flow.  You can also place on screens or tie the stems together and hang to dry.  However you choose to dry your herbs they only thing to remember is to not put too many together.  If there is not enough air circulation the herbs will mold.  

After drying, I strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container out of the sun.  I use either ziplock bags or quart canning jars.  Once processed, I take equal parts of each herb and mix together to make my seasoning mix.  I use my seasoning mix on and in all kinds of dishes-for grilling meat and veggies, salad dressings, pasta sauces, roasted chicken, seafood.  For more on harvesting herbs:  Harvesting and drying herbs

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