Where there’s a dill, there’s a way.
SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Druthers: Preferences regarding one’s state of existence; what a person would prefer (would rather) to have occur… as in “If I had my druthers, there’d be no mosquitoes, no mean people, and the grass would cut itself.”
HERBS AND HERBED SALADS
Kitchen gardens featuring herbs and leafy veggies have been a mainstay of Southern life since the first European settlers intruded on the region’s original residents, who considered the entire landscape their kitchen garden. There is something incredibly enticing about the prospect of picking a few fresh leaves of mint or basil or thyme to use in preparation for a savory meal.
Oxford’s harsh climate and strange mix of clays and gummy, sandy soils could defeat most novice kitchen gardeners. Despite success in other locales, I had been unable to maintain any herbs in my Oxford garden until last summer, when I stuck herbs in large containers in partial shade, and in the corner bed inside the sheltered west wall of my inner courtyard. I kept them away from the harsh afternoon sun, protected from the ever-present neighborhood deer, and watered them regularly, without allowing them to dry out completely.
My success in wintering-over the thyme, oregano, chamomile, mint, and scented geraniums proved the rules of thumb for every kitchen gardener: Herbs prefer raised beds or large, well-drained clay containers. Most herbs do not like wet feet. Herbs must be pinched at the tips to prevent flowering (which signals the end of the plant). And most tender herb plants will burn up if the containers are too small and the growing site too sunny in the summer heat.
Basil is deemed the easiest herb to grow in Lafayette County, which generally has Mississippi’s latest frost date and shortest growing season. Basil is followed in descending order of easiness by parsley, oregano, various mints, marjoram, tansy, comfrey, lemon balm, dill and the sages. (By the way, The Old Bride has just learned that mint is an excellent deterrent to pesky garden snails.) Rosemary is very tricky in our climate, unless grown in very alkaline soil with cool, dry roots, medium-strong sun on the leaves (dappled shade), and regular dressings of clean, pulverized eggshells applied before every watering or rain. English lavender and French tarragon are less apt to survive than Texas tarragon and Spanish lavender. Sage and thyme should be planted as annuals or biennials. Dill, parsley, fennel, and garlic should be grown as cool-weather annuals, for fall and spring harvesting.
If you have questions about your herb plantings, fear not. We Mississippians have a cultural icon in horticulturist Felder Rushing, who spoke at the Oxford Garden Center on April 27 about plant-bed preparation, container gardening, and herb gardening in North Central Mississippi. Follow Felder on his weekly public radio show, or contact him (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions about your own herb garden issues. Better yet, conduct a bit of book research on your own with such references as Southern Herb Growing by Madeline Hill, Shearer Publishing, Inc., 1987.
Other cool sites to visit during your herbquest:
www.visitmississippi.org (Ocean Springs annual Herb, Garden, and Art Festival)
www.msucares.com (yes, that OTHER university)
www.mtfarmersmarket.com (Oxford’s Midtown Farmers market)
www.oxfordcitymarket.com (Oxford’s newest farmers market)
ORZO MEDITERRANEAN SALAD
Red Wine Vinaigrette:
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c lemon juice
1 c extra virgin olive oil
3 T honey
1-1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 tsp coarse ground black pepper
4 c chicken broth
16-oz pkg orzo pasta
1 c diced cucumbers, seeds removed
1/2 c red onion, chopped
1/2 c red or green bell pepper, sliced
2.25-oz can (1/2 c) of sliced black olives, drained and chopped
1 T dried oregano
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 T fresh mint, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
4 oz of feta cheese, crumbled (I like garlic and herb feta)
2 c cherry or Campari tomatoes, chopped and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together the red wine vinaigrette ingredients and set aside at room temperature. Cook orzo approximately 7 minutes in chicken broth; drain well and turn in a large bowl to prevent sticking. Cool orzo, tossing occasionally with large fork. Add all other ingredients except tomatoes and feta. Toss with 1 c of the red wine vinaigrette (just enough red wine vinaigrette to coat). Fold in crumbled feta. Chill overnight or at least 3 hours before serving. Add tomatoes just before serving. YIELD: 10-12 servings.
VARIATION: Add a 15-oz can of cannellini beans (drained).
DILLED GREEN PEA SALAD
1/4 c light mayonnaise
1/4 c light sour cream
1-1/2 T prepared horseradish
1-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tsp fine-chopped fresh dill (or 2 tsp dried dill)
1/8 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
4 pearl onions, thinly quartered and sliced
Fresh dill sprigs for garnish
Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. While water is heating on stove, prepare another stockpot with ice cubes and 8 cups of cold water. Add peas to boiling water and bring the water back up to a boil (about 8 minutes). Boil for 1 minute (frozen peas) or 3 minutes (fresh peas). Remove from heat, drain in a colander, and immediately shock the peas by pouring them into ice water. Cool in the iced water for about 10 minutes. Drain peas again and place into large mixing bowl.
While peas are draining and cooling, combine mayo and next five ingredients. Combine with the cooled peas, tossing gently until well blended. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Serve in cabbage leaves, garnished with fresh dill.
DILLED COLE SLAW
I love this cole slaw that I adapted from a 2001 Southern Living recipe. Try it on your chili hot dogs or with a variety of fish dishes.
8-oz sour cream (light) or crème fraîche
1 c mayonnaise
2 to 3 T white granulated sugar
3 T chopped fresh dill (or 2 T dried dill)
2 T white vinegar
1-1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp black ground pepper
4 green onions, chopped
8 c shredded cabbage (or a 16-oz pkg of angel-slaw cabbage, rinsed and drained)
1 large carrot, grated
1 c shredded radicchio or red cabbage
Combine first 8 ingredients in medium bowl and whisk until blended. Chop or grate approximately half a cabbage to make 8 cups (do not chop fine, but rather, into chopped chiffonades). Add grated carrot and shredded red cabbage or radicchio and toss well. Add dressing and toss until blended. Refrigerate at least three hours before serving. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill upon serving. — Laurie Triplette, email@example.com
Laurie Triplette is a noted author and food writer for HottyToddy.com.