Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Desserts from the Herb Garden

Herbs have long been used as a flavoring for desserts - both the sweet and savory varieties. 

I've found most herb infused cookies, bars and other desserts are more typically found in ethnic, religious and nationality based recipes.  In other words, they are typically recipes handed down from generation to generation.

Such family recipes show cooking practices of earlier centuries, often when the average household had only what they could grow in their gardens and reflect the "old country".  Herbal recipes are often a reflection of those very things.  They were also an effort to flavor food that was often bland because of lack of ingredients or cover the flavor of ingredients gone slightly bad due to lack of preservation methods. 

Because the herbs have distinctive flavors (why else would we use them), they may be literally foreign to the tastes of this generation of Americans.  They may take some "getting used to" because our taste buds are only used to sweet tastes in our desserts.  Many herb recipes also have fruits included.

Here are some examples of herb cookies:
Anise Hyssop & Almond Butter Cookies (as pictured at the top of this page), Calendula Drop Cookies, Cardamom Cookies, Mint Cookies, Clove Cookies, Gingered Cranberry Chews, Lemon Basil Snaps, Lemon Thyme Cookies, Gingerbread Men, Rosemary-Almond Biscotti, and Lavender Shortbread.
For those of you who grew and saved, (either dried or potted in the house) it's a great time to use these herbs in a different and delicious way.

Besides the above basically sweet-based recipes , there are numerous savory desserts.  These often have cheese and meat and are typically more dense.  They may combine both savory and sweet which is also an acquired taste.  My grandmother's Pennsylvania Dutch mince meat pie filling recipe actually has meat, suet, and an abundance of sweets and herbs.

Today, savory herb cookies are often served as horsdoeuvres rather than a dessert.  In the past, savory herb cookies, pies, and other desserts were used as a nutritious and filling part of a meal or snack.  They may reflect a time when sugar was not available, when everything you ate needed to nourish and keep you full for heavy manual labor.

Grandma Shenk's Mincemeat Pie    

3 Cups - Stew meat - cut in small pieces & cooked
3 Cups - Apples - Cored and ground
4 Cups - Cider (or more)
1 Cup - Suet - chopped or ground
1 3/4 teaspoon - Ground cloves
1 3/4 teaspoon - Ground/grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons - Ground cinnamon
1 Cup - Seedless raisins  (soak in water or rum/drain)
1 Tablespoon - Vinegar or rum
1 Cup - Sugar

Cook in a large pot (it will boil up and is very sticky) until all ingredients are tender.  This makes enough for three pies or it can be processed in a steam canner for later use.  The pies should have two crusts, sealed well around the edges to prevent leakage in the oven.  Refrigerate any left overs.

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