Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
Granted, writing about food that isn’t still attached to roots is a bit of a stretch for me. Those of you who have been reading here a while know that I’ve mentioned a few (hundred) times that I’m not much of a cook. It’s not that I lack the basic skills: I can cook when the mood strikes, but it doesn’t happen often. I put a great deal of thought and time into preparing feed for my animals, but for myself…well, it seems like a poor use of time I could use to garden or read or play Neopets. But I do have a few things I enjoy making, mostly because Mom likes them too: granola, roasted root vegetables, and onion soup. And once a year, a batch of herb mustard.
I picked up the basic idea of herb mustard from a workshop taught by the herb maven Bertha Reppert fifteenish years ago at the Rodale Research Center (now the Rodale Institute). I don’t recall if she had a specific recipe or if her approach was as casual as mine has become. I don’t think it really matters, because it’s a simple concept: chop up a bunch of herbs, mix them into your favorite prepared mustard, and you have a tasty dip or sandwich topping.
I usually make herb mustard in early October, to use up some of the bunches of tender herbs I’ve gathered before the first frost. Unfortunately, I was too busy this year to do that, so I missed out on the basils, and on the pineapple sage flowers, which are perfect for adding both color and flavor. But I didn’t want to miss out altogether, so before the recent spell of seriously cold weather, I collected whatever culinary herbs I could still find. I didn’t have any regular culinary sage (Salvia officinalis), but I did find some silver-gray ‘Berggarten’, green-and-yellow ‘Icterina’, and purple-green ‘Purpurascens’.
I still have plenty of thymes on hand, too. I’m not sure of all the cultivar names, but to paraphrase an old Chicago song, does anyone really care what thyme it is? All of these have either a lemony scent or the regular warm, spicy fragrance of an English-type thyme. In the past I’ve used others too, such as caraway thyme and oregano thyme.
Then I was left scrounging for odds and ends. I cut all of the rosemary I could find, along with some parsley and a few lingering calendula blossoms for a tiny bit of color. I snipped some spearmint shoots too. I wouldn’t recommend using peppermint for this – it’s a bit too powerful and mentholy tasting - but the spearmint made a decent substitute for the long-gone basil.
If I hadn’t been hurried to harvest the last of the veggies too that evening, I’d have remembered to hunt out some other good additions, such as chives, garlic greens, dill, savory, and oregano.
I suppose it would be a good idea to wash the herbs and shake off the excess water, but I usually don’t bother. I just check them over for any insects, remove dead or damaged leaves, then use my kitchen scissors to start snipping them up. There are no exact proportions or amounts; I just keep cutting until I get a cup or so of chopped-up herbs.
Then, I add the mustard to the bowl. This time, I used a 32-ounce (2 pound) jar of store-brand yellow mustard. I’m sure a lighter Dijon mustard would be great too, or perhaps a horseradish mustard for a real kick. I stir the herbs into the mustard, then add more herbs until it looks like they’re evenly distributed. (I highly recommend chopping the additional herbs into a separate bowl and not directly into the first bowl, so you don’t have to pick out bits of stem or too-big pieces that have already fallen into the mustard. Trust me on this; it can get messy.)
That’s it! I sampled some right away for a snack, with cheese and hard pretzels, and it was pretty good, even though I missed the basil. I think it’s even better after a few days, once the flavors have blended a bit more. I keep the prepared mustard in the refrigerator. Can’t tell you for sure how long it’s safe to keep, but I try to use it up in a month or so.
Now, onto Edible publications, or more accurately, the publications of Edible Communities, Inc, a publisher of regional magazines that focus on local foods, seasonal cooking, and culinary traditions. I found out about them through Edible Green Mountains, the magazine that covers Vermont. A friend shared a copy of the Fall 2008 issue, and though I hadn’t planned on reading it, I happened to pick it up during lunch one day and ended up studying the whole thing cover to cover – even the ads.
For a magazine about food (which, as I said, I don’t normally find a compelling topic) – and specifically about food in Vermont, when I live in Pennsylvania – to keep my interest…well, it has to be good. I don’t drink wine, but the story of how “ice wine” is made, and why Vermont is particularly successful in producing it, was absolutely fascinating. An in-depth article on how to preserve food by the process of lacto-fermentation was a great read too; who’d have thought that sauerkraut could be interesting? I learned about the differences between pasture-raised and grain-fed lamb, about a cranberry farm, about making apple cider doughnuts, and about the Salvation Farms Gleaning Network, a volunteer-based organization that collects less-than-perfect produce from growers and helps to distribute it to those in need throughout the state of Vermont.
Reading the smaller features on small farms and businesses through the state, looking through the calendar of food-related events, and perusing the advertising made me wish I lived in Vermont. It also made me wish there were a similar publication for my region, and as it turns out, there will be one eventually at Edible Philly. There are already versions for well over three dozen other regions in the U.S. and Canada, including Edible Austin, Edible Buffalo, Edible Jersey, Edible Memphis, Edible Piedmont (for NC), Edible Portland, Edible Rhody (for RI), and many more. To see if there’s one for your region, check out the Edible Publications page. If the quality of the others is as good as that of Edible Green Mountains, you’re in for a treat! And if there isn’t one, you can even find out how to start your own. While you’re there, check out the Edible Communities blog, too, at Edible Nation.