Country Kitchen: Spark Your Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Country Kitchen: Spark Your Cooking With Herbs and Spices
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A dash of basil in sautéed mushrooms, dill sprinkled on boiled carrots, bay leaf in stew, cucumbers with mayonnaise and dill, and cinnamon in oatmeal pudding. These were a few of the variations of herbs and spices I've experienced recently while traveling.
I'm always on the lookout for new dishes, as well as regional and cultural ways to prepare foods. While in Michigan I found the above uses for herbs and spices.

Herbs & Spices Have Long History

From Biblical times and before, herbs were used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. They often had magical powers associated with them and played a role in folk stories. Among the early herbs in recorded and pictorial history were thyme, dill, and fennel. The Egyptians used parsley, and the Greeks and Romans added marjoram to their funeral wreaths.

Love potions were derived from herbs like basil, fennel, anise, and garlic. Some herbs supposedly made one look more attractive.

Herb Gardens in the Middle Ages

Herbs played a role in the cookery of the Middle Ages. Monastery and castle gardens often contained these plants. In those days before refrigeration, herbs and spices were used to preserve and flavor foods.

Folklore evolved surrounding many herbs.concerning their use, the time of day and year to use them, and magical properties. These items also were used a great deal for medicinal purposes. Over the years, it's been proven that some of these substances do help in our well-being.

Proper Use of Herbs

Using herbs and spices in small amounts, just enough to add interesting flavor, but not enough to be overwhelming is the secret of success, my mother-in-law informed me years ago. Guests often wondered how Mum prepared meals that were so tasty. She told me that she added enough seasonings to give flavor but to leave diners wondering just what she'd used.

As my mother-in-law cautioned, one should be conservative about the amount of herbs or spices you use in your recipes. Also it's generally recommended that you don't use too many herbs in one dish. If an herb has a strong or predominant flavor, only use the one.

The amount you use depends on personal preference. If you're cooking for guests, it's best to err on the side of using too little rather than too much. Also, not everyone likes the same herbs.

According to one survey, the herbs used most in American cooking are: parsley, thyme, dill, fennel, oregano, chives, basil, marjoram, tarragon, sage, and savory. If you don't use these, you may want to try them.

DILLED CARROTS - During our recent trip, our hostess simply added dill to boiled carrots. She let some butter melt over them, then sprinkled in a bit of dill. You could hardly taste it, but I found this herb added an interesting flavor.

CUCUMBERS WITH DILL - Our hostess sliced raw cucumbers into a dish. Then she stirred in a little mayonnaise and sprinkled with a bit of dill.

MUSHROOMS WITH BASIL - To accompany pork chops, she sautéed some mushrooms, then sprinkled them with just a bit of basil. I'd never thought of doing this before, but liked the taste.

HERBED BUTTERS - To change the flavor of butter and add interest when you spread it on bread or over vegetables, simply mix a bit of your preferred herb to ¼ to ½ cup of butter or margarine.

Article (C) 2005 Mary Emma Allen

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About The Author

Mary Emma Allen researches and writes from her multi-generational NH home. Check out her new site, Tea Time Notes

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