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An ancient and deeply rooted world of herbs is fundamental to Jekka McVicar. A Brit who over her lifetime has won 62 RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) gold medals has written books, presented TV programs and spoken on numerous radio shows. She’s a living breathing herb encyclopaedia who has influenced celebrity chefs, big supermarkets and educated the home gardener.
Childhood friends of our family, the Brickells lived on the edge of RHS Wisley Gardens. We stayed in their rambling home umpteen times. I wish now I had been more adventurous then and boldly stepped over the invisible line into the gardens. As a kid I thought they seemed rather boring (the gardens not The Brickells) filled with trees. Pretty, but boring. In reality we probably weren’t encouraged to adventure the acres of gardens open to the public. Calling us back for dinner would have been fruitless!
Herbs in my mum’s kitchen were used mostly fresh when I was little. The aroma of freshly chopped mint to be mixed with a pinch of sugar and red wine vinegar was a familiar Sunday smell. It mingled with the rosemary sprigs poked into the leg of lamb roasting in the oven.I remember my sister saying lamb with fresh mint sauce was her favourite meal of all times. I think it was the mint sauce she looked forward to more than the lamb!
There are hundreds of mint varieties. Jekka says mint is very ‘promiscuous’! Easy to grow, it multiplies overnight without any intervention. In Tasmania at The Agrarian Kitchen cooking school, Rodney Dunn grows many varieties of mint in his enviable kitchen garden. There is a distinct difference between Spearmint, Peppermint and Common Mint. Have you tried chocolate mint? Apple mint? Or pineapple mint? Just one tip though, being easily led into relationships, if mints are grown in the same garden bed and their roots touch, they lose their individuality and all start tasting the same. You have been warned!
Another herb Jekka encourages Sheila to sample on this intriguing podcast is sorrel. Oh My Goodness! Of all the salad leaves, this would have to be my ultimate. Having tasted its’ lemony magic in NSW, QLD and recently in NZ on our food tours I am totally bemused as to why it is so hard to source in Perth.
I have asked Sabrina Hahn about sorrel, she said it is banned as it’s classed as a noxious weed here. I will contact Chris Brickells daughter, my childhood friend, who has followed in her dads horticultural footsteps to ask if there is any sorrel variety we can grow in WA without it taking over the state and causing unfound misery to farmers. And I am waiting to hear back from my inquiries to the Department of Agriculture. I need sorrel in my life and quite honestly if the eastern states grow and enjoy it, why can’t we in WA? Sorrel is the most divinely flavoured herb. For example, sorrel simply whizzed with crème fraiche is delicious served alongside chicken or fish. It brings lightness and much excitement to salad leaves minimally dressed with sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard and fresh local olive oil.
I did find ‘French’ Sorrel at Dawsons last spring, planted it in our shadehouse and was highly disappointed to find the leaves were about the size of a pea. They tasted great but by the time I had picked enough for a salad I would have died from hunger. I pulled out the plant about 2 months ago. Yesterday picking some beloved watercress I noticed two medium sized heart shaped leaves. The sorrel has self-seeded. I’ll keep you posted on its development.
A selection of five herbal recipes from Jekka McVicar
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