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"Growing and Using Thanksgiving Herbs"

Thanksgiving DinnerThanksgiving is just around the corner and it's time to start planning the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Many of the dishes commonly prepared for the Thanksgiving dinner can be spiced up with a variety of fresh or dried herbs. Whether grown in your own herb garden harvested fresh or used from a jar dried, herbs can add delicious flavor and aroma to all the courses of the meal.

Keep in mind dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs. Herbs that have been dried as whole leaves have the best flavor. Powdered herbs will have a milder taste.

Herbs can be used in each dish and even a five course meal can include herbs. From the appetizer to the soup, salad, entree, side dishes and even dessert, herbs can spice up the entire meal. Click on a plant name to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

A relish plate of fresh vegetables with a dill dip is a great appetizer for the Thanksgiving meal. Dill adds a medium flavor in a sour cream or cream cheese dip. A cheese and cracker plate with sage added to cheese spreads adds a strong flavor to a mild cheese.

Herbal teaBeverages served with the Thanksgiving meal can be enlivened with herbs. Herbal punch can be made from a blend of two parts herb tea and one part fruit juice. For herbal punch, brew the tea first, refrigerate it until serving time, then mix it together with fruit juice. Herbs to use for tea include lemon balm, peppermint, chamomile, rosemary, and fennel to mention just a few. Combinations of herbs that blend well for tea include marjoram and mint; thyme and rosemary; lemon verbena and mint; lovage and salad burnet; and bergamot and sweet cicely.

All sorts of herbs can be added to homemade breads and rolls to lend a variety of flavors. As a general rule, mix three quarters to one teaspoon of powdered herb into each cup of flour. Use one teaspoon crushed herb seeds to each cup of flour. Dill, fennel (seeds), and rosemary are three top choices. Dill and fennel (seeds) will add a medium flavor and rosemary will be strong.

Herbal butterInstead of using plain butter as a spread on homemade bread or rolls, try herb butter instead. There are many herb blends that add flavor to butter. They include marjoram, thyme, and chives; basil and chives; dill and parsley; and tarragon, dill, and chives. To make herb butter, let the butter soften until the herb blends can be easily mixed in. Use up to three tablespoons of fresh herbs to each half cup of butter. When using dried herbs, use half the recommended fresh amount.

Different herbs complement different types of soups. Oregano, bay, and sage are always paired with bean soups. A cream-based or potato soup is delicious with dill.

A salad of fresh greens served with the Thanksgiving dinner can incorporate herbs in several ways. Fresh salad burnet leaves mixed into the greens adds a flavor of cucumber. Fresh or dried dill sprinkled on top adds flavor.

Herbal vinegarA simple dressing of oil and vinegar served with the salad can have added flavor by using herbal vinegar. Tarragon is probably the most widely used herb for herbal vinegar. Other herbs to add to vinegar include marjoram, borage, salad burnet, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, thyme, and rosemary. Herbal vinegar is usually allowed to steep for several weeks in the garden in the sun during summer, but a quick way to make herbal vinegar at this time of year is to heat the vinegar either on the stove or in the microwave, then add the herbs. Don't let the vinegar boil. The heat extracts the oils from the herbs and it's the oils that add flavor. Fresh herbs contain more oil than dried and will add more flavor. Strain out the herbs before using. A good blend of herbs to use to flavor an oil and vinegar dressing is marjoram, thyme, savory, basil, and sage. Using about equal parts of each herb, blend them thoroughly, then add two teaspoons of the blended herbs to three quarters of a cup oil and one third cup vinegar. Allow the dressing to stand for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to blend and intensify.

Thanksgiving turkeyWhen it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the entree is usually turkey with stuffing, although pheasant and duck are also popular. Sage is the traditional Thanksgiving herb used in turkey stuffing and is probably the most familiar herb associated with Thanksgiving. Marjoram and rosemary can also be added to stuffing. Rosemary adds a strong flavor, while marjoram is more mild. For flavoring the turkey, combine basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, or thyme with melted butter and brush it over the turkey. As the turkey bakes, the butter will help brown the skin and the flavors of the herbs will seep into the meat.

Mashed potatoesThere are many side dishes served with Thanksgiving dinner, and all of them can be made more flavorful with the addition of herbs. Baked winter squash is a traditional, seasonal dish that is usually served. Try baking it with fresh, finely-chopped rosemary for a strong flavor. The best herbs to combine with mashed potatoes are dill, marjoram, mint, or savory. All impart a medium flavor, except savory, which has a rather strong, peppery flavor. Savory is also the best herb to mix into green bean dishes. Steamed carrots can be made tastier with marjoram, rosemary, or mint. Anise leaves add a mild, licorice flavor to yams. A relish to serve alongside cranberry sauce combines onions and thyme.

Even the salt shaker on the Thanksgiving dinner table can be enlivened by herbs. Blend an equal amount of dried herb with table salt. Basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon and thyme can all be used for herb salt. For a salt-free substitute, blend together dried parsley, oregano, dill seed, winter savory, marjoram, rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, and cayenne pepper. This blend will add flavor without salt.

Pumpkin pieDessert with Thanksgiving dinner includes pie, cookies, and cake. Anise can be used as a substitute for nutmeg in pumpkin pie. Fennel seeds added to an apple pie before it's baked impart a mild, anise-like flavor. Caraway seeds are used in spice cookies and apple pie. In cake recipes that call for lemon, fresh leaves of lemon verbena can be used instead.

From the appetizer to dessert, a variety of fresh or dried herbs can add distinctive taste and fragrance to the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Fragrant Freesias Bloom in Winter"

Q. You have helped me in the past. Now I'd like some information on freesias. Are they hard to grow? Can they be planted outside like tulips, etc.? Thank you for any help you can give.

A. Freesias are a tender corm best grown as a house plant, not planted outside. They are easy to grow. They have lance-shaped, flat leaves and tall, arching flower spikes that can reach one and a half feet tall. Freesias bloom in winter and early spring in pink, purple, white, and yellow. The flowers are borne on the upper side of the flower spike. Their tubular-shaped flowers have a delicious, fruity fragrance and the yellow and white flowers are the most fragrant.

To grow them as house plants, set the corms barely beneath the surface of the potting soil. Plant six corms to a five-inch pot. If planted in spring, place the pot outside after frost has passed in a sunny location. Bring them indoors in fall before frost. Grow them indoors in a bright window with at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. They do best with cool night temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees. Normal room temperature is adequate during the day. Water regularly and fertilize monthly until buds show color.

Freesia corms that are purchased in fall should be planted into their pots then given a cool treatment (40 degrees) for four weeks. After four weeks, move the pot to a sunny location with cool night temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees. Freesias will flower in about 10 to 12 weeks from planting.

After they have finished flowering, allow the foliage to yellow, then withhold water. Allow the pot to become dry and store dry over summer. Next fall, repeat the process by first watering the pot, then giving it a four-week cool treatment, then moving it to a sunny location. You can keep a pot of freesias going like this for many years because new corms are formed around the old ones and it's the new corms that flower each year. I've had a pot of freesias for three years now and they are once again beginning to show signs of growth.

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