In this blog I write about the food that I grow organically and what I cook with it. I had anticipated that by this week I might be writing about broad beans or even peas, but the vagaries of the British weather have delayed the first harvest of these early allotment vegetables. So instead I’m going to write about another group of plants that are currently doing rather well on my allotment plot: herbs.
On my plot, the Circus Garden, I currently grow mint, chives, marjoram, sage, rosemary, parsley, dill, lemon thyme, sorrel, lemon balm, chervil, French tarragon, lavender, fennel, horseradish and basil as well as slightly more unusual herb varieties such as blackcurrant sage, lemon basil and anise. They don’t take up a lot of space yet provide me with a steady supply of genuinely fresh, organically grown herbs for a large part of the growing season.
Many of us buy our fresh herbs from the supermarket, but just how fresh exactly are they? Some, of course, are sold in pots and are thus still living, although in some feeble cases it’s a fine technical distinction. But what about those packs which contain bunches of apparently freshly cut herbs?
In many cases these fresh herbs are sold in what is known as Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), a technique also often used to package bags of salad leaves, fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and baked goods such as croissants.
MAP can considerably prolong shelf life. It is a process in which specialised equipment is used to alter the composition of the internal atmosphere of the packaging, reducing the level of oxygen, usually down to 2-3%, and replacing it with nitrogen or carbon dioxide. This process slows down the rate of oxidisation and thus the rate of deterioration of the food within.
It may well prolong shelf life but research into the effect of MAP on packaged salad leaves has suggested that a side effect of the process may be the destruction of both vitamin C and antioxidants. And anyway, how much does this technology add to the cost of the packaged food when factored alongside other costs, such as transport and distribution? Quite a lot it seems. My local supermarket is currently selling MAP packaged mint at 82p for a packet weighing 25g. That works out at a staggering £32.80 per kilo for a herb that is probably nowhere near as fresh as its appearance might suggest.
Mint is arguably the easiest of herbs to grow. Indeed it’s sometimes a challenge to stop it spreading. All of the more common herbs – mint, parsley, basil and coriander – are relatively simple to grow, whether it is on an allotment, in a garden, on a balcony or on a windowsill. Why not give it a try? Not only will your fresh herbs be genuinely fresh, each time you use them you only need to cut as much as you require, no need for any waste.
Here’s a very simple but tasty recipe showcasing a few of the more common herbs. You can easily vary the types of herbs you use according to your taste and what you have available. The fritters are light, tasty and extremely moreish.
herb and mozarella fritters
1 buffalo mozzarella, grated
Bunch spring onions, finely chopped
50 g vegetarian Parmesan
75 g fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh, finely chopped chives
2 tbsp fresh, finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp fresh, finely chopped coriander
A pinch of salt
2 organic free range eggs
4 tbsp groundnut oil for frying
Lime wedges, for serving
1. Place all the ingredients for the fritters into a bowl and stir to combine. Divide into eight equal sized balls and flatten each into a fritter shape, about a centimetre and a half in depth. Place the fritters onto a flat baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the fritters for about 4 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp on the outside. Place two fritters on each plate and serve. These work really well with a tomato, olive and red onion salsa.