Ok, so I am going to throw a bunch of books at you. I love Wikipedia, but sometimes the people who write the various entries (Fines Herbes) have not actually done sufficient research to know the whole picture, which in this world if instant gratification leaves us somewhat under informed. I don’t know what Julia Childs said about herbs but the writer cites Julia as his source and it is woefully inadequate.
Since I ventured to write about herbs a few months back I have had a number of visits and searches inquiring about mixing this with that and trying different combinations of various herbs. My advise has been…go for it and if you don’t like the taste you probably won’t try that again. There are a couple of challenges for American culture, while we make the most fantastic Barbecue and certain other local cuisines like Cajun, Southwestern, etcetera, most of our traditional food is bland.
Think about it! We are a Meat and Potatoes Culture! Our comfort food is Mac and Cheese.
It is only when we venture into foods from other cultures that we begin to encounter the serious use of herbs and spices. French sauces, Italian marinara, German and Swiss Baking, South of the
Border peppers and cuminos, Chinese, Indochinese peppers, cilantro and corriander or Indian Curries and Middle Eastern garan masala . Most of these cultures spent centuries developing their recipes, using the available plants from the local surroundings. So, one reason most herbs and spices remain a mystery for americans is the lack of exposure. Hey you can buy your sauces and soups already made, and Campbells thanks you very much. (/rant mode)
I am the proud owner of a little known out of print book, that should have been required reading for all Home Economics students in school. (You know where the boys went to wood shop and the girls went to sewing and cooking class) The book is called “Magic in Herbs” it was written by an immigrant from Europe and published in 1941. It is a delightfully written little book with solid research and many wonderful stories about herbs, their uses and their histories.
In her introduction to the authoress, Leonie De Sounin seems to anticipate that the world of herb knowledge will someday become lost due to lack of interest or the mystery that surrounds those funny little bottles on the shelves of our super-markets.
Here is a quote from the introduction by Miriam Birdseye (Sound Familiar?)
…home economists wishing to add the subtle art of seasoning to their the mastery of scientific principles of cooking; teachers of advanced cooking and institutional management; extension workers who have already aroused some interest in using herbs; armchair cooks who somehow absorb culinnary delights from a written page–all these and many more will peruse the pages of “Magic in Herbs” with pleasure and profit. With pleasure, for this book is written in the charming style of an experienced writer of stories and plays. With profit, because it makes a baffling subject plain, and throws sidelights on details of culinary management of which many American homemakers are abysmally ignorant.
Herbs are an intimate part of the cooking process, as common as salt and pepper in most of the cultures of the world. In addition to the flavors that they add, many if not all have medicinal properties. This adds to the mystery of understanding herbs, many cultures used and use various herbs as cures for ailments so the uses are manifold. The herbs themselves however, cannot stand by themselves, they belong together with the foods that they compliment.
The French seperated some of their main uses for herbs into two basic categories. As Leonie categorizes them the fine herbs, and the robust herbs. The French would say Les Fines Herbes and the Boquet Garni. This is not totally accurate as onion celery and carrots are sometimes included as “Boquet Garni” but the difference is basically that the fine herbs are the perfume and aromas that need little cooking to work their magic. The robust herbs release their flavor over the life of the cooking process as they will start in the pot with the stock ingredients.
The fine herbs are: Sweet Basil, Chervil, Sweet Marjoram, Thyme, Rosemary Tarragon and Chive.
These are contrasted with the more robust herbs: Borage, Wild Marjoram, Mint, Sage, Summer Savory, Winter Savory, Sorrel, Caraway, Fennel, Dill, Horseradish and Parsley.
Now, when we compare this list with the “Julia” list on wikipedia, they show thyme, basil and rosemary as part of the “robust” herbs and I don’t see Oregano on either list. This points out the whole confusion and personal nature of herbs in general. Here are 2 ” authorities ” in disagreement. The botton line is that taste is an individual preference, there is no right or wrong until you have overdone one herb or another. If it goes too bitter then you’ve been too heavy handed. Better luck next time and get out there and experiment.
Do they mix well together, yes for the most part the fine herbs will support the robust herbs, lets hear from Leonie.
The revival of herbs has something to do with the modern trend of living in America. The universal taste for foods has become more precise, more definite, as the great variety of dishes has narrowed down to the more essential. But alas, the essential has become more monotonous. In far too many homes and restaurants the four kinds of meats–beef, lamb, veal and pork– make the round always in the same identical uniform. There are no surprises. Yet there could be most agreeable surprises, using the robust herbs, these greatly help heavy meats–they modify, and make heroic flavors.
The robust herbs, too, are anxious to be introduced individually, because they are the hardier ones and very seldom demand support or company. But they do not object if the fine herbs approach the robust ones for their solid background.
Which reminds me; it is time to dig out my pork goulash recipe now, I can almost taste that caraway and paprika just thinking about it.
If you ever come across this book in a thrift store or used book store snap it up, it is fabulous. For a definitive exploration of each individual herb, you cannot go wrong with the