by Barbara Cornell
I am so glad the Howard County Farmers’ Markets have opened! Now I’ll be able to pick up some fresh growing things that I haven’t had the time or inclination to grow in my own garden.
Some of us make an assumption that a vendor at the Farmers’ Market is selling organic produce. Let’s clear up the issue if we can. Howard County Farmers’ Market rules state that “All products sold at the market must be grown or produced by the entity to whom the space has been assigned” so we know the produce is “local.” But is it organic? The Farmers’ Market rules also state that vendors may not use the term “organic” unless they are certified by the Maryland Department of Agriculture as “Organic.” This certification can be expensive and time-consuming for a small farmer. It is a good thing to be able to talk with our local Farmers’ Market vendors and ask about their practices and whether they use pesticides. Based on conversations with them, you may decide they farm the way you like and this may mean more to you than actual “organic” certification.
This year I have decided to learn more about herbs and how to make the best use of them in my kitchen. This will mean buying plants to grow as well as perhaps buying fresh-cut herbs. And this will mean studying up on the subject at the library!
Howard County Library System has many great titles on herbs including a few from our good friend and herbalist Susan Belsinger such as The Creative Herbal Home, which she and Tina Marie Wilcox wrote in 2007. They teach us how you can use herbs for much more than seasoning your food, such as sunburn soothers, insect repellents, and essential oil spritzers. I also like Susan’s Not Just Desserts: Sweet Herbal Recipes. Scones can be completely transformed with a few snips of fresh lemon scented herbs!
Jerry Traunfeld gives us The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor, 2005. The photographs in this book will have you swooning! And his creative uses of all kinds of garden herbs make me think: “I wish I had thought of using herbs in that.” He even includes “Good dog, bad dog biscuits”–the recipe makes 2 to 4 dozen for a good dog, or one “helping” for a big bad dog.
The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar, 2008, seems to be exactly what it claims to be—complete. McVicar’s 30 years of experience with her own commercial herb farm in South Gloucestershire give her an air of expertise born of firsthand knowledge. In her 250-page “A to Z” section (by botanical name), McVicar gives information on cultivation, harvesting, and uses—culinary and otherwise. Here is where you will find her few recipes. She follows this with sections on general details of herb growing, including layout plans for 8 different types of herb gardens such as an aromatherapy garden and a natural dye garden.
Homegrown Herbs: a Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hartung, 2011, is another “complete” book but arranged in quite a different way. Also an herbalist with years of professional experience, Hartung encourages us to “think a bit more like a plant and less like a person” as we care for our herbs. After covering garden layouts such as a “chef’s retreat” and “Mr. MacGregor’s vegetable & herb patch,” she covers soil needs, propagation, pest control & harvesting. Her section on cooking with herbs includes a chart of edible flowers and reminds us there are many garden “weeds” we can use as food. I especially like Hartung’s use of charts throughout the book, in which she gives us, in her various chapters, the plant characteristics, habitat preferences, propagation needs, harvesting guidelines, and other information for each herb. Chapter 10 covers “Herb Personalities” with thorough profiles and photos of the herbs we have seen in her charts.
This summer I will again present Farmers’ Market Chef classes at Howard County Library System’s Glenwood Branch one Saturday a month through September. For the first session, June 16, I will actually be helping at an information table at Womenfest at the Gary J. Arthur Community Center next to the Glenwood Library from 10 a.m. to noon. You can count on a few great books to sample as well as some herbs to sniff and sample!