It’s Christmas thyme again
Enjoy the herbs, flowers and fruits of your garden either as ingredients or garnishes for festive summer food
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.