Springtime Herbes de Provence

By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by Lucinda Hutson

I design culinary gardens with special themes, as seen at Austin’s vanguard organic nursery, the Natural Gardener. Individual raised beds within a large, circular garden showcase Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian herbs. Visitors become acquainted with herbs from these regions by admiring them in a natural setting, and experience first-hand how they complement each other in gardens. 

Touching, tasting and inhaling their seductive scents inspire their use in recipes, too, but it’s the Provence Garden that especially sings to my soul in springtime.  

Here the colors, textures, fragrance and flavor of rosemary, bay, marjoram, chervil, savory, tarragon, thyme and the sweet perfume of blooming lavender abound—mingling as harmoniously as they do in a fresh bouquet of herbes de Provence gathered in the hills of southern France, and reminding me of the culinary and ornamental virtues of herbs.

Proprietary dried blends of herbes de Provence in variable proportions (sometimes with the addition of dried orange peel, basil, fennel and/or mint) are packed in earthenware crocks in Provence. Upon opening them, a heady aroma greets the nose, at once piquant, pungent and exquisitely perfumed.  

This beloved combination of herbs—fresh or dried—combined with extra-virgin olive oil, wine, garlic and farm-fresh vegetables distinguishes the cuisine of Provence: hearty stews and soups, garden-fresh salads, grilled and roasted meats and vegetables, herb-imbued fish and fowl and flavorful sauces. No need to book a flight, however.  It’s easy to make your own blend right at home.  

Rocky, limestone soil, lavender fields, wineries and plenty of sunshine are as at home in our own Hill Country as in the south of France. And the aromatic herbs of Provence love it here too.



SPRINGTIME HERBS OF PROVENCE

HERBES DE PROVENCE (DRIED HERBS) MIX:

1 T. French thyme (try lemon thyme too!)
1 T. rosemary
1 T. summer savory
1 T. chervil (or add more marjoram, oregano or parsley)
1 T. marjoram
2 bay leaves, dried and crushed
1–2 t. tarragon (or Mexican mint marigold)
1–2 t. oregano
1–2 t. culinary lavender

Optional additions:
2–3 t. dried fennel seeds
2–3 t. coriander seeds
2 t. dried orange peel
1 t. dried mint
Crushed dried red pepper

For a comprehensive list of Lucinda’s favorite French herbs for
Texas gardens with planting tips, see below.
 
 
GARNISHES

  • Sprinkle fresh minced herbs on rim of plate
  • Garnish plates, open-faced sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres with “mini bouquets” of fresh herb sprigs and edible flowers (see photo above)
  • Remove mid-rib vein of sorrel or chard, roll up leaves and slice into chiffonade to sprinkle on plates, salads, soups and roasted veggies
  • Flavor and garnish custards and sorbets with edible flowers, mint, lemon verbena, lemon thyme sprigs and citrus slices. Drizzle ganache (velvety melted chocolate with cream) atop brownies, pound-cake squares, frosted cakes to adhere violas, sweet herb sprigs and fresh spring berries. Arrange on a lovely platter for a garden on a plate! (see photo above)
  • Press edible flowers, berries and herbs atop slices of cheesecake (or decorate an entire cake)
  • Garnish glasses of champagne with lavender stems, lemon verbena or lemon thyme to impart their essence into the bubbly.  Add edible flowers, too.

For further information on growing herbs in Central Texas and cooking with them, consult my book, The Herb Garden Cookbook (University of Texas Press) or visit my website at lucindahutson.com
 

 

Favorite French Herbes for Texas Gardens


Bay: use 1–3 fresh, pungent leaves to flavor soups, stews, fish and roasted veggies.

Chervil: more delicate flavor than parsley, with a hint of anise. Use lacey leaves in soups, salads, omelets and sauces.

Lavender: tucked under the pillow or in custard! Use “culinary grade” lavender for drinks, sorbets and cakes—adds spicy/floral flavor to lamb and roasted meats.

Marjoram: cousin to oregano, with a sweeter, delicate flavor for squash, eggplant, veggies, salads, stews and soups.

Rosemary: clean and refreshing. Boil in water for a lovely hair rinse and room freshener, too. Used to flavors marinades and meats, fish and stews.

Savory: peppery and bright taste for salads, soups, beans, veggies and meats.

Tarragon: French culinary favorite with an anise flavor and a dragon’s bite. Essential in vinaigrette, marinade and sauces (Béarnaise!). Also used with poultry, fish and salads.

Thyme: many varieties. French thyme adds essence of Provence to stews and grilled/roasted foods. Add a handful of lemon thyme to artichokes, asparagus and green beans as they cook.

Roquette (Arugula): leaves taste nutty and reminiscent of radish—tasty in salads or atop pasta and roasted veggies.

Edible Fleurs: organic rose petals, Johnny jump ups (violas), violets, pansies, lavender blossoms, calendulas and nasturtiums garnish salads, pastas, open-faced sandwiches and desserts.

Fennel: plant in fall for spring harvest of bulb for salads and roasting. Dried seeds give burst of anise to spice blends, roasted veggies and breads.

French sorrel: tart, puckering lemony flavor from large, bright-green leaves for tangy soups and salads.

Lemon Verbena
: quintessential for lemony tisane (tea) called verveine, and lovely for fruit, salads, custards and desserts.

Mint: refreshing flavor for drinks, jellies, salads and grilled meats—also used to garnish desserts.

Oregano: spicy, piquant flavor for tomato dishes, soups and stews, marinades and roasted meats.

Parsley: packed with vitamins and flavor—“garnishes” the edge of the garden as well as the plate!

Sage: aromatic flavoring for meats, poultry and stuffing.

Note: Most of these herbs are perennials (best planted as nursery transplants in the fall instead of from seed) and pop their heads up again each spring for continual pleasure. In cooking, use fresh or dried herbs in flavorful combinations—use about 3 times more fresh than dried.