Saturday, 14 May 2011

Lovage and lager.

This week, I am too angry about the Conservative plans to ruin education to speak of them. I am also tired of arbitrating child disputes ("His leg is on MY BIT of the sofa!" "No, your ARM came over my bit!" etc. etc.) to even try to summon up some will to be topical. So I retreat, as I do in real life, to my garden.

When we moved into this house, I acknowledged that the back garden would be home to large plastic toys, trampolines, and battered, footballed plants and chickens. Plus husbands' van, car and implements. It's 250 foot of brave, hardy flowers and scared grass. But the front garden is MINE. I inherited gravel. It was two different colours (pink and white) admittedly, with a few sad shrubs, and it was north rather than south facing. It gets the sun afternoon and evenings, meaning I can prop a chair there and watch the world go by. It is 40ft square of MINE. I killed/demolished the following: boring red shrub, terrible sharp grasses that were pretending to be pampas, and some sad looking weilegias. In their place, I have let the forget-me-nots and lupins seed like mad, planted lavender, aquilegia, geranium, and mints. I fancied an old fashioned herb plot, so in went Rosemary, Sage, Hyssop (puts cats off) , Catmint (attracts cats), (cat stalemate) Rue, Fennel, Valerian, and Feverfew, all of which clump, self seed and look after themselves. I also added Angelica and Lovage. I had no idea what they did, what they were for, or indeed, what they looked like. I only knew they were old herbs that even the Elizabethans had used. Angelica was a sweetener pre-sugar, and I knew that the Romans had planted Lovage here. I knew this because I used to do 2 lessons a year with my year 7's cooking Roman food to Roman recipes (honey buns, YES. Fermented fish gut sauce, NO). I could never find any Lovage in the shops.

And lo, this spring, they emerged. Within 4 weeks, they were easily the biggest things in the garden. Now, the Angelica has overtaken the Lovage in height, easily 6 foot tall and 3 foot wide with huge football sized flowers, magnificent segmented leaves. It is an impressive plant. Cow Parselys' huge inbred cousin. The Lovage is smaller, only 4 foot tall, but it has yet to put up its' flower spike. It is a lovely, green/blue color, and no less impressive for its' modesty. I love them. People ask all the time what they are. They assume they are exotic, foreign. No, merely old outdated, unfashionable elderly plants. I love them for it. But I have no idea what to do with them. Just like particular relatives.

I have yet to find a use for Angelica. BUT: Lovage is more approachable. Early appearing (March! the earliest leaves you can find), and late leaving (November last year), it is a hardworking herb. The flowers are scented, leaving caper like buds which can be eaten. It has many uses. Medicinally it acts as a mild antiseptic when made into a solution. It makes a tea which is a mild diuretic (makes you wee) and is a liver tonic. It freezes well. You eat the leaves, like any herb, but you can also blanch and eat the young stalks, like asparagus. All this I found from the few references in my tomes. I found NO recipes. NO description of actual taste. The only recipes I had were from my edition of Apicus, the Roman who blighted my year 7 cookery class. So, when it emerged this Spring, I trod towards it warily. I picked a bunch (reckless! I only needed, like, 2 leaves), and retreated to the kitchen with the kids.

"Here, kids, squash these leaves and sniff them".


"Ewwww, you are trying to make me sniff CELERY!" (Celery is the DEVILS WORK in this house. Not only is it stringy and crunchy at the same time, it doesn't even taste of anything except horrid, as daughter says. This was going to be a tough sell.)

In taste it resembles a peppery celery, with a lemony chilli aftertaste, mixed with what I can only describe as a smoked mint. I think it would lend itself enormously to barbecue rubs in place of the ubiquitous celery salt. I have tried it in tzatziki (fabulous), minestrone soup (excellent) and in salads (fab). A little goes a LONG way, it is so strong you only need a teaspoon in a vat of soup to flavour it with celery inplace of 4 stalks of the real stuff. Once the leaves get old (round about now till Autumn) you need the merest smidgeon of them, in salads just crush them and wipe the bowl. That's how powerful they are. The scent remains on your hands the way garlic does. Frankly, after chopping a load, my hand stank. But in a good way.

I think i'll be using it in earthy type dishes; it'll suit green lentils and potatoes. So far i've added it to minestrone in place of the actual celery, and here it has worked beautifully, saving my kids the hassle of fishing the bits of celery out, without tasting too strongly. I have found a Sophie Grigson recipe for Lovage soup which I will try out soon. If any of you live nearby and want to try, come get some. Otherwise, if you have a patch that's empty, shade, part shade, any sort of soil, I urge you to grab a Lovage plant. And the lager? That's for me, now. I'm a lot calmer after typing herb love, and may be able to sup a few pints without resorting to smashing my local Conservative club (they won, again. Nobody here votes, apart from farmers and elderly people who do well out of them. The rest of us, the young and middle aged of the village, will just have to wait till we are 80 to get anything, seeing as all the youth clubs, day centres, toddler groups, and Surestart have gone. 80 is the average age of the local council). No, stop. Lager. And Lovage. Till next post. Herb it.


The mum of all trades said...

I have never heard of that herb before, very interesting post.

Lis said...

Your garden sounds magnificent! I've heard of lovage but never used or grown it, I'm very tempted to do both now, thanks. I was very tempted to buy a packet of woad seeds at the weekend....still might...

Minnie Cooper said...

I was interested to read that you plan to try out Sophie Grigson's lovage soup recipe (presumably from The Soup Book - i blog about this in Minnie's Soup Kitchen). I planted lovage in my garden a couple of months ago and used some today to make the soup. Very tasty. Home-made soups are so different from commercial ones. Good luck with the garden.