Spring plant markets: where’s the lovage?

May 17th, 2010

Busy plant market in Bergerac's old town

Along with a few peppers and tomato plants, I had an uncommon herb on my list for this season’s plant markets and fairs.  Surely, browsing all the vegetable and flower stalls, I could dig up a source for lovage.  So I inquired: Livèche ou ache de montagne? Rare, madame, très rare – I was told by one plantsman; “go to a specialist nursery” said another.  It was Deborah Madison’s www.culinate.com article on this large culinary and medicinal plant that spurred my search.   She described the herb so enticingly that one corner of my potager has been cleared for a potentially gigantic lovage plant.  The idea of stirring up a cream soup of lovage, topped with frizzle/seared strips of prosciutto made my mouth water.  This seems a perfect starter for a cool spring evening’s dinner.  Having struck out at the Bergerac plant market, my search is not over…perhaps I will find one in the US in a round of Marin markets with my sister in California later in May – or in upstate New York with my daughter.  Going west or east, the quest continues.  Stranger ingredients have been known to find their way into my luggage on return from past trips.  Meanwhile, enjoy your herb-shopping, with the promise of summer meals enhanced with aromatiques straight from your own balcony or herb patch.

Jazz on the corner, a toe tapping interlude for plant shoppers

A Posset Revival

May 9th, 2010

Flipping through the luscious pages of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes, I paused at a seductive page of grilled figs with a lemon possetPosset?  Tell me more.  But when I looked into the description, did it help knowing it was like a syllabub?  It seems that today’s chilled creamy dessert posset descended directly from a warm milk drink dating back to the 15th century. In fact, for centuries this was a cure or comforting relief for colds:  milk warmed, curdled with acidic wine or ale and sometimes spiced with cinnamon, mace or nutmeg.  The old French word, posce, is a probable root for possot, poschet and posset, which in its comforting sense has evolved into the idiomatic meaning of posset – to pamper or make someone comfortable. That is the good side of posset.  On the dark side, consider that Lady MacBeth poisoned possets for the guards outside Duncan’s rooms in Act II, scene ii of MacBeth.  I wonder what spices Shakespeare fancied in his possets.

Gariguettes & lemon posset for Sunday lunch

In 18th century England, (I was looking for something savory in all this…) a posset was stirred into a meat sauce as thickening, much as one might use a béchamel sauce today. Eggs were added for nourishment and a richer blend, as this was a noble drink not often made by commoners. But primarily, this is a sweet story:  a posset of cream and whiskey, a Bridal Cog survives as a traditional bridal toast on the Orkney Islands.  Now, to whip up my own version of this English classic, and since figs are not yet in season, I turn to sweet strawberries.  What better foil for a tangy rich posset?  To be ready in a jiffy – then chilled for a few hours – try…

Lemon Posset with May’s first Gariguettes

For 2, heat  200 ml/ 3/4 cup thick cream and 70 g/ 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan, let simmer for 3 minutes. When it comes to a rolling boil remove pan from the heat and stir in the juice of 1/2 lemon, whisk for a few minutes as it begins to thicken. Pour into small cups or glasses, top with curly lemon zest (from the same lemon) and chill for 4 hours or overnight. Serve with the season’s berries, red blue or black.  A crunchy cardamom-flecked almond shortbread is good with this.  So easy, so reviving after a long winter!

Next up this month: more on spices, planting nasturtiums for salad, and flower fairs.  In June: a note on syllabubs, a winery visit and open season for flea markets.