It’s Christ­mas thyme again

En­joy the herbs, flow­ers and fruits of your gar­den ei­ther as ingredients or gar­nishes for fes­tive sum­mer food

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE FES­TIVE hol­i­days can be a great time to cel­e­brate with friends and fam­ily or a glo­ri­ous time to be away from the madding crowds. There are two keys to a great Christ­mas sea­son. First, work to­wards cre­at­ing the ul­ti­mate pa­tio spot for your hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties and, se­condly, ap­pre­ci­ate that there are at least a dozen ed­i­ble plants which can make your hol­i­day more plea­sur­able. Out­door liv­ing is an in­trin­sic part of the south­ern African life­style and a di­rect re­sult of our mag­nif­i­cent cli­mate. Re-look at your out­door liv­ing area this month – is it in need of ex­ten­sions or mod­erni­sa­tion in or­der to meet your fam­ily’s chang­ing needs? An at­trac­tive pa­tio en­cour­ages peo­ple to spend more time out­doors, whether it is din­ing al fresco, en­ter­tain­ing or re­lax­ing.

Your pa­tio need not be sited off the din­ing room, lounge or fam­ily room. It can be a se­cluded pa­tio in the cor­ner of your gar­den, be­side the bed­room or in a pro­tected spot near a pool. The fur­ni­ture you choose should also be prac­ti­cal, com­fort­able and weather-re­sis­tant. Up­right wrought-iron chairs and ta­ble are more for­mal than wooden or wicker pieces. A gar­den filled with ed­i­ble plants can play a big role in cater­ing over the fes­tive sea­son. Since the days of old, fresh herbs, veg­eta­bles and ed­i­ble flow­ers have been used to add flavour­ing and gar­nish many dishes.

The most pop­u­lar fes­tive sea­son herbs are pars­ley, sage, rose­mary and thyme. All can eas­ily be grown in a patch of sunny gar­den or in a few pots on a sunny pa­tio or win­dow sill. Herbs don’t like wet feet and when grown in pots should have ad­e­quate drainage.

To get the most flavour out of your fresh herbs al­ways har­vest them early in the morn­ing. Pick them by hand or use a sharp pair of se­ca­teurs.

Herbs have two growth stages. The first stage is the leaf stage when leaves are at their best. Dur­ing the flow­er­ing stage the qual­ity of the leaves drop and they aren’t as suit­able for cook­ing as be­fore. Keep your herbs in the leaf stage longer by har­vest­ing them reg­u­larly. Af­ter flow­er­ing, cut back to en­cour­age new growth.

If you have an over-pro­duc­tion of herbs from your gar­den, pack­age them for freez­ing or dry­ing. If you are sub­sti­tut­ing dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, di­vide the re­quested amount by half. Un­less the recipe sug­gests other­wise, herbs should be added to food in the last 15 to 20 min­utes.

Flow­ers, like nas­tur­tium, ros­es­cented pelargo­nium, vi­ola, day lily and fuch­sia can also be used in cook­ing and make colour­ful gar­nishes when added to sum­mer salads. As you set off for the fes­tive sea­son hol­i­day, con­sider these sum­mer recipes.

Then add the plants that each recipe re­quires to your col­lec­tion of ed­i­ble plants for your mid­sum­mer gar­den.

Pick fresh sprigs of mint or spearmint and slices of le­mon. Add to water or ice tea for a re­fresh­ing mid­sum­mer thirst quencher.

Com­bine one head of let­tuce, three-quar­ters of a cup of any of the fol­low­ing herbs: chives, dill, pars­ley, tar­ragon and basil. Gar­nish with nas­tur­tium flow­ers and vi­o­las.

Cut up a fruit salad com­pris­ing a host of fresh sum­mer fruits. Gar­nish with melissa.

Herb ex­pert Mar­garet Roberts re­gards this day lily and peach salad as her favourite sum­mer salad. She tosses in dan­de­lion petals, pump­kin flow­ers, yel­low nas­tur­tiums, plus 12 yel­low and orange day lilies and buds to the salad of thinly sliced up fruit and veg­eta­bles (6 yel­low cling peaches, 2 cups of celery: 3 yel­low or red sweet pep­pers; 6 raw baby mar­rows; 4 hard boiled eggs; 1 cup of grated ched­dar cheese; 1 cup may­on­naise; black pep­per and sea salt). Mix every­thing to­gether. Serve in a glass bowl and dec­o­rate with yel­low day lilies and grated gin­ger.

Finely chop up a quar­ter of a cup of nas­tur­tium flow­ers and leaves. Add them to a bowl con­tain­ing 1 cup of cream cheese, 1 cup of grated gouda cheese, half a cup each of white wine, finely grated celery and finely grated green pep­per. Add 1 ta­ble­spoon of Worces­ter sauce and a dash of le­mon juice. Place in a bowl sur­rounded by chips and crack­ers. Dec­o­rate with nas­tur­tium flow­ers.

If you are brave enough to be cook­ing a turkey, tie a bunch of thyme and rose­mary, in­sert into cav­ity along with a whole le­mon. Com­bine fresh chopped rose­mary with soft­ened but­ter to make a flavoured but­ter for bast­ing your turkey.

Sprin­kle a tea­spoon of finely chopped rose­mary and a tea­spoon of finely chopped sage over 500g sweet pota­toes chopped into small cubes. Add melted but­ter, place in an oven for 30 min­utes. Sprin­kle 2 tsp grated parme­san cheese and freshly ground black pep­per over the hot pota­toes.

A favourite party piece from Mar­garet Roberts is a fruit and fuch­sia based top­ping for ice-cream, rice pud­ding or sago pud­ding. Choose 1 cup of small fuch­sia flow­ers. In a dou­ble boiler sim­mer un­til ten­der: 3 cups of fresh fruit (peel and chop up), 1 cup su­gar, half a cup of water and half a cup of des­ic­cated co­conut. Add the fuch­sia flow­ers. For a mid­sum­mer party stun­ner, layer the fruit and ice cream in in­di­vid­ual tall glasses. Add a sprig of mint leaves and fresh fuch­sia flow­ers as dec­o­ra­tion for im­pact.

RO­MAN­TIC ROOFED PA­TIO: En­joy a few pri­vate mo­ments on a pa­tio out­side the bed­room with a view.

SALAD: Orange nas­tur­tiums can be com­bined with day lilies in a clas­sic salad. Flow­ers and leaves can also be used in a cheese dip.

FRENCH PROVEN­CAL: A ro­man­tic Christ­mas break­fast can be cre­ated in a colour­ful cor­ner of your home.

LAND­SCAPED GLORY: A sunken gar­den on dis­play at the Hamp­ton Court Palace Gar­den Show.

FRESH: Fuch­sias make a spec­tac­u­lar in­gre­di­ent in an ice-cream fruit top­ping.

GAR­NISH: Vi­o­las are a won­der­ful gar­nish for leafy salads.

ICED: Spearmint and le­mon make a great iced tea with ice blocks.

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