Category Archives: Cooking with Herbs

Wild Herb Custards

Savory custards are not as well known as their sweet counterparts these days,  but it is a dish that was commonly prepared historically in Europe and Asia.

I often make them for our first day of spring meal, as this is the time of year when the stores from the last harvest were dwindling and many were getting by on cheese, fresh dairy and eggs from the livestock that started producing in the spring, and whatever wild greens were popping up. It just makes sense that this is probably the time of year when they were made frequently as they would have been running low on flour to make tarts and pies.

I’ve seen this recipe made most often with wild leeks or wild onions, but I used chives because that’s all I have growing right now and I am more of a gardener than a forager.  You can really chop up any wild greens you have a plentiful amount of now to throw on top.

Chances are if you see this recipe on a site from the UK the proportion of milk and cream will be different.  The dairy products we get here in the US have a lower milkfat content, so I have fiddled with the recipe to get a good texture.

Wild Herb Custards

¾ cup whole milk
1 ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
4 large eggs
1 cup finely grated white cheddar cheese
5 Tbsp. finely chopped herbs

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Mix the first four ingredients, well.  Place your custard cups in a glass baking dish.  Fill the dish with boiling water until it comes up two-thirds of the way on the custard cups.  Fill the cups 2/3 full of the mixture from above and then sprinkle the chopped herbs on top.  Cover the cups with a piece of parchment paper and place them in the oven. The custards need to  cook for 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your custard cups.

When they are done, the mixture will have set up and a tester inserted in the middle should come out clean.

“Mixed Spice” Blends

While I am still enjoying my holiday downtime, I thought I would take a few moments share  one of the most popular items I stashed in my gift baskets.  This year I tried something different by printing up some little recipe cards and mixing up batches of the spices that I use and attaching little packets to the recipe and they seemed to be a hit.   Honestly using spice blends like this in baking is simply a continuation of the practice of cooking with the powders you find in medieval cookbooks. These powders add spices  to dishes that warm the circulation and improve digestive function.

One blIMG_8262end I haven’t mentioned before is “mixed spices”  although my báirín breac does call for mixed spice.  For those of you who live on the North American side of the pond but like to dabble in traditional British and Irish cookery, you probably came across recipes that  come across recipes that call for “mixed spice” if you attempted an  Irish Christmas Cake or an English Christmas pudding, this year. In the UK you can just buy mixed spice at the store. But here in the US we often substitute pumpkin pie spice which is quite different.

The ingredients most commonly used in “mixed spice” are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, allspice and mace.   You see all sorts of recipes online ,  but I am suspicious of many of them.  I particularly avoid those  those which omit the coriander and  caraway and substitute cardamom.  I will share both versions but I think my first variation is likely the more authentic formula.  I tweak my personal recipe a bit to include more period spices in the mix but the modern cook should have most of the following ingredients on hand.

Variation I
1 Tbs ground allspice
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1 Tbs ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground caraway seed

Variation II  

This is probably a more modern version and to my way of thinking is not as fun, nor would it have the broad effect of the first blend.

2 teaspoons allspice
2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons cloves
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Instant Gratification: Dried Tea Powders

The title of this article may be misleading, because there is really nothing quick about the procedure I am about to describe. It is however, a valuable way to quickly incorporate more herbs and foods into your diet, once you get through the process,  which I will explain below.

I first came across a recipe for dried tea extracts on Christopher Hobbs website and as I am always looking for  new projects, I decided to give it a whirl.   The first time I did this I did it with nettles looking for a tolerable way to choke them down.  I’ve messed with the recipe a bit after a lot of trial-and-error experimentation and having a chance to pick Thomas Easley’s brain about the process at TWHC.

6 cups of water: 3 cups of chopped fresh herbs

or

8 cups water: 2 cups ground dried herb

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it until the liquid has been reduced by 1/3 . This takes a long time-maybe give yourself a facial or start another project because you are going to need 2-4 hours depending on the day.  Strain the liquid and allow it to cool. Press the marc (I used my tincture press), then weigh it after pressing. Return 1/2 to 1/3 of the solids to the liquid. I blend the mixture with my immersion blender at this point. I  also add 1/4 cup of astragalus powder at this point.

dried tea extractBring this liquid to a boil and simmer some more. When the mixture has reduced by again 1/3 and become sort of a slurry, I dissolve one tablespoon of arrowroot powder in some cold water and blend it in. This step is optional, but helps to keep the slurry from running off the dehydrator’s fruit leather tray or sticking to it.

Dry this at 100ºF to 120ºF until the mixture becomes brittle and then break it in to pieces and grind them into a fine powder.  I used a coffee grinder and then sifted the powder.  If you don’t grind them, you can suck on these like hard candy. I am storing that in the back of my mind for future experimentation.

It is true that a single herb dried extract of nettles might be easier to choke down in this form (yes, I am a bad herbalist who doesn’t like nettle infusions) but why would I do this when I could just make have a nice nettle chai, or maybe a creamy nettle soup that I would actually enjoy? Keep in mind,  I think herbal preparations should actually taste good. Especially if you are trying to get them into children, or people whose taste buds have grown accustomed to the standard American diet.

Next,  I tried a hawthorn chai blend, but I found that the final product didn’t retain enough flavor even though I used a goodly amount of corrigent spices.   I decided that I don’t think I would recommend this method of herbal preparation for  aromatic herbs.  The length of cooking time seems to have evaporated away most volatile constituents.This probably explains why I’ve seen it recommended to add some peppermint extract or some other corrigent, right before putting the mixture on the dehydrator tray.  I think hawthorn is a good candidate though.  Just wait to add the flavor until later.

Raspberry Hibiscus Dried Tea ExtractSo the next time,  I moved away from aromatics and started with with a raspberry leaf/hibiscus blend that I enjoy to see how that handled reducing.  I also used the trick of adding some of my orange flavored honey and some cinnamon extract right before I dumped it on the dehydrator tray. That seemed to work a bit better.   The result is a pleasant little instant tea that I could happily have two cups of a day.   I mix one teaspoon of the powder with a cup of hot water. According to Dr. Hobbs, each teaspoon is the equivalent 6- 8 teaspoons of the herb.

Those who know me know that I am rarely content with following  directions and I started thinking of uses for the powder other than as a dosing strategy.

I started thinking about cooking and suddenly the light came on. I could use these powders to flavor food. I made  powdered kale “tea” to sneak into sauces,  dips, or smoothies and a mixed vegetable powder that I will use to  thicken stews.  Really the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

From a practical homesteading point of view, this makes good sense.  These powders take up less room and may even have a little bit longer shelf life than conventional dehydrated vegetables-lasting up to a year.     So experiment with the method and see what you come up with.  I haven’t even gotten to fruit yet, but a dried apple powder is next on my list.

A Summer Tart

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This is another one of those great recipes we found in a medieval cookbook, published in 1393.  I actually chose the herbs for my kitchen garden based on what I needed to make this.  It is amazing! The original instructions are a bit hard to follow so I thought I should explain them. It really isn’t as hard as this makes it sound.

 

TO MAKE A TART (TOURTE), take four handfuls of beets, two handfuls of parsley, a handful of chervil, a sprig of fennel and two handfuls of spinach, and pick them over and wash them in cold water, then cut them up very small; then bray with two sorts of cheese, to wit a hard and a medium, and then add eggs thereto, yolks and whites, and bray them in with the cheese; then put the herbs into the mortar and bray all together and also put therein some fine powder. Or instead of this have ready brayed in the mortar two heads of ginger and onto this bray your cheese, eggs and herbs and then cast old cheese scraped or grated onto the herbs and take it to the oven and then have your tart made and eat it hot.~

The Goodman of Paris

1/2 pound of greens – we really like chard in this recipe.
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 c fresh chervil
2 Tbsp leaves chopped fresh fennel leaves
5 eggs
6 oz of Parmesan cheese (or hard white cheddar)
6 oz of Swiss cheese (mozzarella )
1/2 t ginger or galangal
1/2 t salt
9″ pie crust

This is super easy to put together.  Place your pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan. Chop your greens up well.  Mince the fresh herbs finely and mix them in a bowl with the cheeses.   Then blend the eggs up and pour them over this mixture.    Stir it altogether really well and pour it into the pie crust.

Bake at 350 degrees until set in the middle.  Check it after 30 minutes.

References:
The Goodman of Paris Eds. G. G. Coulton and Eileen Power. Trans. Eileen Power. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1928 p. 278.