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Boiling Point: Here's a recipe for a kitchen garden

 
Jim Hillibish
updated: 6/27/2007 9:34 PM

You can have your kitchen garden and eat it, too.

If you travel to Europe, you'll find kitchen gardens everywhere. They are small plots of herbs and other culinary plants growing as near as possible

to the kitchen door.

That location is strategic. When you get the whim for fresh herbs in a

recipe, you just pop out the door and snip some, as fresh as they get.

Our American houses since about 1950 have made kitchen gardens difficult. Before then, almost all kitchens had back doors leading directly outside.

Now they usually open to garages. So you may have to walk a little to reach yours, but it's worth it.

Herbs for 25 Years

When I built our brick patio, I left an 8-by-5 foot open space 3 feet

from our kitchen door. It has blessed us with fresh herbs for 25 years. The

soil now is so rich from compost, I have to tame the herbs with a hedge

trimmer.

The fertility is critical. Kitchen gardens are small and intensively

cropped. Mine is home for Italian and Greek oreganos, basil, French

tarragon, mint and garlic and onion chives.

Herbs are wonderfully communal and enjoy growing together.

My parsley bed is nearby. We use it almost daily.

Many of our cooks have yet to discover fresh herbs. They're costly in

stores, $2 to $3 for a small package. It's well worth the effort to grow

them.

This year, I created an annex near the garden, a barrel containing a bush

tomato, more basil and two bush cucumber plants. Just cannot get enough.

Most of the herbs are perennials. Mine have been feeding us for more than 10 years on the same plants, not a bad return on investment.

Using fresh herbs requires some recipe rethinking. Dried herbs are

concentrated flavor that's released by heat. You add them at the beginning

of the cooking process.

Near the End

Fresh are delicate. The flavor is already there and degrades with cooking. You add them at the end with no more than 10 minutes to go.

Their flavor is bright if you avoid overcooking and nonexistent if you do

not.

Although we only have a few plants, they supply us handily. Herbs require

regular picking to maintain their growth, and the best ones are the young

shoots. If you let them flower, they lose strength.

They also lose flavor quickly after being picked. Mine go from snipping to

use in a couple of minutes.

If you simply don't have the space, you can use containers for your plants.

These do double duty as decorations on your deck or patio. When fall comes, you can bring them inside, and they will continue to produce all winter.

My favorite application is chopped herbs in salads. I cut some including

stems for smoking chicken and seafood on my grill. Often I use them as a

side garnish to brighten our summer plates and palates.

This merging of gardening and cooking hobbies is way too much fun, and it

tastes great, too.