Half a Hundred Herbs Week 4 – Winter Savory

wintersavory2I picked the right herb for this week! Although the snowdrops are out, and the birds are already competing for their nesting territories, there’s a cold East wind and the sky has that bleached heavy quilted look that says it’s going to snow. The forecast seems to think that down here by the river we’ll get away with it, while higher places like Dunblane and Callander will have much more trouble, but that sky says different. We are not away from the winter yet, not by a long way.

So winter savory. It looks a bit like thyme’s big tougher sister, but it has a tangy and distinctive taste all of its own, bitter, astringent and a little bit sharp – peppery is the usual description – I think it’s a little bit like the black medicine we used to get from the doctor – vaguely black and with a back taste of mint. In a herb for savoury cooking it doesn’t seem so intimidating, and in fact I find the smell rather tempting.

Classically it is used forbeans, and has the reputation for reducing the flatulent side effects and making them more digestible, which is the way I’ll be using them tomorrow. I first grew it for a recipe in The Magic of Herbs called cheese of seven herbs, which sounds as if they might have made it at Hogwarts, but is described as an ancient Cumbrian recipe. You melt 4 ounces of grated cheese, 2 tablespoons of cream and 3 tablespoons of sherry in a double saucepan, and stir in 2 tablespoons of the mixed herbs – chives, chervil, parsley, sage, tarragon, thyme and winter savory. Then you pour it into small pots and allow to cool. My husband balked at the idea of that much sherry, and wouldn’t taste it, and really I’d prefer to reverse the quantities of sherry and cream, but it’a all academic to me now, as cheese gives me migraines. But it’s got to be better than your average processed cheese spread, no?

I grew it at my allotment in the carefree days before the arthritis struck, when I still had such a thing. It has the prettiest most demure pink and white flowers, like gingham dresses, but although it grew well in the sunny open plot, it really couldn’t cope with the heavy clay soil and the way the allotments next to the river flooded in wet winters. Now I have kept my new plants in the greenhouse, and I’ll plant them out in drier looser soil when the good weather comes.

winter savoryBecause in spite of the bitter wind and the bite of snow in the air, spring is on its way, and I am looking over the seeds I mean to start off on my windowsill, and working out where in the garden everything is to go. There will be the usual suspects of course, including a lot of lavender cuttings I’m taking from the specialist varieties I have in pots, but I’m trying horehound, for its frosted bobbly leaves, sweet marjoram, angelica, mullein, and myrtle. That should keep me busy!

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