It is one of my favorite times of the year: soup time! I love a hearty bowl of flavorful herbal soup served with a slice of crusty bread. That brings me to my two favorite Thanksgiving herbs: lovage, which is one some of you may not be as familiar with, and sage, the quintessential herb of Thanksgiving.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is one of my favorite herbs because it is up early in the spring, goes to flower and seed in the heat of summer, and comes back to life in the fall. It is a perennial member of the parsley family. For additional recipes and information, read Linda L. Underhill and Jeanne Nakjavani's article "Lovage."
It makes a big presence in the herb garden and so it is important to place it in the back of the herbal border. It needs full sun for at least 4 to 6 hours a day and it is perennial for Zones 4 to 8. It does go dormant in the winter and it needs that period of dormancy. So it is probably not good in the deep south and tropical areas.
I, of course, use it throughout the season as a replacement for celery. Then right around this time, I cut what I think I will use during the winter and put the leaves between paper towels or air dry them. If you dry them between paper towels, the paper towels will smell like lovage. An herbal bonus! The leaves will turn yellow from loss of chlorophyll, but the flavor is retained. You should not dry lovage in a sealed paper bag because of the moisture content in the stems, the leaves will be moldy. Once the leaves are crispy dry, place them in a container that is labeled and dated. You want to dry only as much as you will use during the winter and by all means use it within a year.
I love to use lovage in soups, in stews, with vegetables and in potato salads. However, lovage is not typically an herb that is found in the grocery store. If you have an abundance of lovage, you may want to share your extras with friends and family along with your favorite recipes. To preserve your lovage harvest for winter use, blend two cups of lovage leaves in a cup of water and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. To savor its flavor, add one cube of your lovage leaves in a pot of soup. These cubes also work well when added to herbal butters or vinegars.
One interesting tip about lovage: its stems are like straws and can be used in Bloody Marys or similar drinks.
Here is a tried-and-true recipe for Thanksgiving from the cookbook A Celebration of Herbs Recipes from the Huntington Herb Garden, edited by Judith Herman and Jean Patterson.
Cream of Carrot and Lovage Soup
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 3/4 cup chopped onion
• 6 carrots, peeled and sliced
• 1/3 cup chopped lovage leaves
• 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
• 1/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
• One 3-inch sprig fresh dill (I didn’t use this and it was just as good.)
• 1 cup light cream or half and half
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Ground fresh nutmeg (optional)
1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and lovage. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and parsley; stir until coated. Add chicken broth and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add fresh dill sprig and cook another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender.
2. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Return the pureed soup to the saucepan, stir in the light cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. This soup can be served hot or cold. Chill if serving cold, or reheat without boiling to serve hot. Sprinkle with a light dusting of ground nutmeg, if desired. SERVES 4 TO 6.
Now on to the more traditional herb of the season: sage (Salvia officinalis). Sage is one of my all-time favorite herbs in the garden. It stays green and quite alive through Thanksgiving in most years.
Be sure to check out my blog post I wrote last year about my favorite sage varieties "What’s in a Name? Growing the Best Sage Varieties," which includes additional links and recipes.Here is my new favorite bread recipe for the holidays from the Herbal Kitchen, by Jerry Traunfeld.
Feta-Sage Cornbread decorates the holiday table.
• 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened for the pan
• 18 to 24 large sage leaves
• 3/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon fine salt or regular table salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 4 ounces (1 cup) crumbled Greek feta
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Smear butter on the inside of a 9-inch glass pie plate. Press the sage leaves into the butter in a circular daisy pattern, saving about 6 to press into the side of the pie plate horizontally. (I placed mine vertically, but they still looked fine.)
2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together with a wire whisk. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk and olive oil together. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until all of the lumps smooth out. Then stir in the cheese.
3. Pour the batter into the pie plate over the sage leaves. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the bread springs back in the middle when you press on it. (I baked mine for 30 minutes.) Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen the sides with a paring knife, then flip the cornbread out onto a plate or board with the sage leaves on top and serve while still warm. MAKES ONE 9-INCH BREAD, ABOUT 8 SLICES.
I hope you have learned some additional information about lovage and sage in this post and have found some new recipes to use during the holidays. As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.
You can read more from the Lemon Verbena Lady by visiting her personal blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden.