The Seasoning Tree

~Insert Tree

 

(Click on links to go to topics)

Introduction to The Seasoning Tree
The Herb Families
The Herbs

 Spicy-Herbs

True Spices

Some Special Herb Family Hints
The Fine & Hearty Herbs
The Herb Bouquet
Pot Herbs

Ethnic Blends
Enhancers & Condiments
Seasoning Oils & Butters
Garnishes

 

 

Introduction to The Seasoning Tree
 

If, as Beulah says, the art of seasoning is a matter of matchmaking from among the family branches of The Seasoning Tree, then where to begin is with a glance at those families and their most prominent members. Next we can go on to how an experienced season-er weds flavors . . . and then, to what else is involved in this art . . . texture, color, aroma . . . all that tantalizes the palate.

    For practical purposes the Seasoning Tree has three main limbs-Herbs, Spicy-Herbs, and True Spices. These branch out into smaller boughs and twigs, and arrange themselves into family groups--or species --(from which the word spice actually comes). On the Tree the "first families" of seasoning are grouped with their most prominent members in bold. This is for future reference, particularly when combining all three groups as so many ethnic dishes do.

    You can identify members of the Mint family by their oval leaves, which vary as much in size and shape as Mints do in flavor. The Sweet Carrots you can tell by their feathery foliage. But Beulah learned from her mother (who never labeled her jars of home-dried herbs) that the way you tell an herb is with your nose. In an herb garden, Beulah can also identify an herb by tasting a leaf. And in a restaurant her taste buds can tell you the chef's secret ingredient. About the Mints she explains, "If you will take time to taste each one, they will always give you a lingering taste . . . the pungent flavor of Mint." And about Sweet Carrots, "There is a suggestion of ginger, as in the core of a carrot." This family's spicy characteristic is most easily detected in the seeds of coriander and cumin, and the sweet-spice of carrot in anise seed.

    "Knowing your onions," metaphorically and in the kitchen, has to do with discrimination. About garlic Beulah once wrote: "To tell a cook she (or he) put garlic in a dish is to say too much was used." Chives, on the other hand, are so delicately "Onion" as to be called the cook's best friend. And, by way of an onion rule: "Scallions in the salad; leeks in the soup; shallots in the sauce." As for white, yellow and red onions: white are usually the mildest, yellow strongest, and the reds--some mild, some strong. [see ~]


 

T H E  H E R B  F A M I L I E S


THE MINTS
basil - lemon balm - marjoram - oregano - rosemary
sage - savory - spearmint - thyme
or lemon verbena. also peppermint, apple mint, etc.

 

THE SWEET CARROTS
anise* - caraway* - celery* - chervil - coriander*
cumin* - dill* - fennel* - parsley
Less common are angelica, the unusually sweet cicely, and lovage.
*The seeds as well as fresh or dried leaves are used. See * below.

THE ONIONS
chive - garlic - leek - pearl onions - red onion
white onion - yellow onion - scallion - shallot

 

THE COMPOSITE FAMILY
Tarragon
 
THE LAUREL TREE
Bay leaf
also from the Sweet or California Bay and Oregon Myrtle

 




T H E  S P I C Y - H E R B  F A M I L I E S

THE CRESSES
horseradish - mustard - radish - water cress 

THE PEPPERS
cayenne pepper - chili peppers - bell pepper
paprika - pepperoni - pimiento
*Additionally, the seeds of coriander and cumin are used as Spicy-Herbs

 


 

 

T H E  T R U E  S P I C E  F A M I L Y

allspice - cinnamon - cloves - ginger - mace
cardamom - nutmeg - peppercorns - turmeric**
*Anise seed can be used as a spice. **Use turmeric in place of saffron.

 


 


Some Special Herb Family Hints   
 

"If you could only have one herb," I asked Beulah, "which would you choose?" Her unhesitating answer was "Tarragon. When I'm in a hurry I grab for tarragon. It's good on cooked vegetables--alone or with a squeeze of lemon. I add a little butter, but for myself not even salt. And for the simplest of all salad dressings . . . tarragon . . . vinegar . . . oil. That's all."

    For one who appreciates the flavor-magic of Herb Bouquets, a supply of bay leaves is a necessity. Knowing this, on Beulah's first birthday in the Mother Lode we surprised her by planting a bay leaf tree by her front door.

    By definition the Cresses and Peppers are herbs--plants bearing soft seeds-but by characteristic they are spicy. Water cress, a favorite of the Spicy Herbs, is no longer considered safe to pick wild. But there is a dirt-grown variety with the same spicy-hot taste. And if you have shied away from fresh horseradish root because of its volatile fumes, Beulah has a hint: peel the root whole; squirt it with lemon juice to keep it white; and freeze it. You can then grate off just what is needed with the vapors inhibited while frozen. Horseradish, you may already know, should not be cooked. Add it to hot dishes just before serving. The whole or powdered seeds of the mustard plant are used. Also the greens--a few when cooking spinach or mixed with milder greens in a salad.

    Peppers, like onions, call for discrimination--from the sweet/mild fresh bells and the colorful-but-gentle paprika to the hot and very-hot chilies. The important thing to remember is that with some peppers--cayenne and pepperoni--a dash is a lot. In lieu of or along with Cresses and Peppers, use the seeds of coriander and cumin--the spicier carrots--or use fenugreek (Greek hay) seeds.

    Of the True Spices, Beulah's personal favorite is fresh ginger root. This she peels and freezes as described above for horseradish. The fleshy part of the frozen root grates off easily, leaving the fibrous part behind. To grate a nutmeg whole use the finest part of a flat-surfaced grater. Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg, and more pungent. It masks the raw taste of soy. In oriental seasoning anise seeds are used along with the True Spices and a piece of cinnamon bark in cabbage soup is a secret Beulah learned from Russian neighbors. Missing from our spice shelf is saffron--too costly for most frugally-minded vegetable lovers--but for which Beulah substitutes turmeric.


 

THE FINE AND THE HEARTY HERBS


    Another important way of grouping herbs and spices is by characteristic as- Fine Herbs and Hearty Herbs. This tells us those most naturally compatible to one another . . . the truly "gentile" members . . . or the "hefties" to call upon when they are needed. Of the Mints, for instance, marjoram--sweet marjoram-and oregano--sometimes called wild marjoram--taste similar. But marjoram is delicate while oregano is robust. Marjoram, therefore, is classified as "Fine" and oregano as "Hearty." Of the Sweet Carrots chervil is the most subtle--the reason why it is the favored of "Continental" cuisine. Caraway, on the other hand, adds heartiness to the simmering pot of "Old Country" fare. The way the Fine, the Hearty, and Herb Bouquets are formed is by way of a "folk science of seasoning"--a "rule of three" that to a large extent takes the guess work out of combining and complementing herbs. Here is how it works.



    The Fine Herb trinity begins first and always with the mild-mannered chive; second, one of the more subtle of the Sweet Carrots is added; third, one of the more "exceptional" of the Mints, or the very special tarragon. If possible the herbs should be fresh and chopped very finely. Sprinkle them over vegetables or add to sauces or Herb Butters.

chive
+
celery leaf - chervil - parsley
+
basil - rosemary - marjoram - tarragon - thyme

 

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chive

    celery leaf

    celery leaf

    celery leaf

    celery leaf

    celery leaf

    basil

    rosemary

    marjoram

    tarragon

    thyme

 

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chervil

    chervil

    chervil

    chervil

    chervil

    basil

    rosemary

    marjoram

    tarragon

    thyme

 

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chive

    chive

    parsley

    parsley

    parsley

    parsley

    parsley

    basil

    rosemary

    marjoram

    tarragon

    thyme

 




    The Hearty Herbs are the flavor heavy-weights that add substance to a meal so the appetite feels satisfied. Note that parsley is listed in both Fine and Hearty categories. For Fine use less, for Hearty more. To form a Hearty trinity first match a hefty Mint with a robust Sweet Carrot:

oregano - sage - savory - spearmint + caraway - dill - fennel - parsley



    To the Mint/Sweet Carrot twosome add a third "meat-and-bones" seasoner:

either horseradish or garlic

 

THE HERB BOUQUET


Chatting once about culinary "nosegays," Beulah remarked: "Perhaps you'll feel more at home with these seasoning sisters when I tell you the familiar 'herb bouquet' of your most cherished cookbooks combines any member of the Mints with one of the Sweet Carrots and with a bay leaf. If you are English, the Mint may be thyme. If Italian, basil will more than likely be the choice. If German, instead of one you would probably include two bay leaves." Whatever the selection, tie the bouquet trinity together or in a square of muslin, or even toss them loosely into the pot. Sometimes you will also want to add representatives of the Onion and Spicy-Herb families, a True Spice or two, and several Pot Herbs [facing page]. Use whatever is available from each of the seasoning families and you will have learned the secret of seasoning--from the same word as the seasons--from seed to harvest to the perfected or "finished" dish.


The Mints * The Bay Leaf * The Sweet Carrots

 

 

1 - Basil
2 - Lemon Balm
3 - Marjoram
4 - Oregano
5 - Rosemary
6 - Sage
7 - Savory
8 - Spearmint
9 - Thyme

 

insert

 

Anise - 1
Caraway - 2
Celery - 3
Chervil - 4
Coriander - 5
Cumin - 6
Dill - 7
Fennel - 8
Parsley - 9

 

  
Nine Times Nine--With the bay leaf as the constant and by combining in turn each of the above Mints and Sweet Carrots it is possible to form 81 different bouquets:
 
basil/anise
b/caraway
b/celery
b/chervil
b/coriander
b/cumin
b/dill
b/fennel
b/parsley
 
lemon balm/anise
lb/caraway
lb/celery
lb/chervil
lb/coriander
lb/cumin
lb/dill
lb/fennel
lb/parsley
 
marjoram/anise
m/caraway
m/celery
m/chervil
m/coriander
m/cumin
m/dill
m/fennel
m/parsley
 
oregano/anise
o/caraway
o/celery
o/chervil
o/coriander
o/cumin
o/dill
o/fennel
o/parsley
 
rosemary/anise
r/caraway
r/celery
r/chervil
r/coriander
r/cumin
r/dill
r/fennel
r/parsley
 
sage/anise
sage/caraway
sage/celery
sage/chervil
sage/coriander
sage/cumin
sage/dill
sage/fennel
sage/parsley
 
savory/anise
s/caraway
s/celery
s/chervil
s/coriander
s/cumin
s/dill
s/fennel
s/parsley
 
mint/anise
m/caraway
m/celery
m/chervil
m/coriander
m/cumin
m/dill
m/fennel
m/parsley
 
thyme/anise
t/caraway
t/celery
t/chervil
t/coriander
t/cumin
t/dill
t/fennel
t/parsley
 

 

 

THE POT HERBS


    Beulah suggests that the "natural born cook"--such as she considered her mother--is one who understands intuitively how to vary flavors in complementary and enhancing combinations, and particularly how to select and blend seasonings from all those available and including the self-seasoning vegetables called Pot Herbs. A number of the plants we now eat as vegetables used to be considered herbs. The cook threw them fresh into the pot to heighten the flavor of whatever concoction was simmering. From the following list you can see the family resemblance between vegetables and herbs and why the subjects of seasonings and in season vegetables naturally go together.

asparagus - broccoli - Brussels sprouts - cabbage - carrots - cauliflower
celery - chard - dandelion - endive - fennel [fresh] - mustard - onions
parsnips - bell peppers - radishes - sorrel - spinach - turnips - watercress


    Sorrel, if you can buy or grow this vegetable, will add a delicious lemony tartness to soups or salads. Fennel--the vegetable--may be used as you would celery. In planning vegetable meals, serve the Pot Herbs to complement the more bland vegetables: the potatoes, eggplant and the squashes. In an Herb Bouquet, use fresh carrots, celery or fennel as the Sweet Carrot of the bouquet. For an all round seasoned pot of vegetable stew or soup, use the cruciferous cabbage vegetables for their mild Spicy-Herbs flavor, bell peppers for Pepper subtlety, and add onions discriminately. Endive and dandelion are Composites. Accent them with their cousin tarragon, just as ginger is used to emphasize the spice of carrot.


 

ETHNIC HERB AND SPICE BLENDS


    The seasoning blends of most ethnic concoctions are expansions of the Herb Bouquet theme: a bay leaf, a member of the Mint and Sweet Carrot families, with Onions and Peppers added as well.

    Thyme, bay leaf and celery leaves or seeds are a typically English blend. Marjoram, bay leaf and chervil are a popular combination in France. In Italy, basil, bay leaf and parsley are basic. In Hungary, caraway and green pepper are favorite seasoning additions. In Spain, cumin, onions and garlic are essential. South of our border, in Mexico, oregano (wild marjoram) covers the hills and is therefore the herb most often used along with cumin and chili peppers. Similarly, out West where sage grows wild this herb is combined with the Spicy-Herbs of Spanish influence. In the Middle Eastern dishes often are seasoned with mint, cumin, coriander, garlic, pepper, and sesame seed.

    The more highly-seasoned curries of the Far East demonstrate how to blend all branches of seasonings. And although the True Spices and Spicy-Herbs are the dominate flavors, they are substantiated by the Hearty Herbs, mellowed by the self-seasoning Pot Herbs, and topped or accompanied by seasoning garnishes and condiments.

    Here is an example of a Whole-Spice Curry Blend:

cinnamon bark - coriander seed - cumin seed
ginger root - mustard seed - peppercorn


    Fenugreek seed, turmeric, and red pepper might also be added or substituted. A bay leaf, whole cloves and cardamom are still other possible additions. For a full-bodied curry, tie whole-spices of your choice in a piece of muslin and add to the sauce along with several Pot Herbs. If all this "potpourri magic" is too much bother, then you can always buy a can of Curry Powder.

    An East/West Herb/Spice Blend--This combination of East and West flavors includes an Herb Bouquet, Onion and Pepper family representatives, and True Spices. Mix it ahead of time and store in the freezer or refrigerator, ready for seasoning sauces or vegetable casseroles.

bay leaf - celery seed - thyme - garlic - onion
pepper - cardamom - clove - ginger - nutmeg


    Use 2 or 3 bay leaves, finely cut; 1 teaspoon celery seed; 1 tablespoon thyme if the fresh herb is available, or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme; 1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced; 1 tablespoon minced onion; 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and teaspoon each of the other spices (ground). Use according to taste.


 

ENHANCERS AND CONDIMENTS


    The oldest of seasonings is salt, used not only for savor but to preserve food. But its over use now is believed to contribute to a number of health problems. In recent years, Beulah has all but eliminated salt from her diet and the rest of us are cutting way back. She fills the salt gap by using herbs more generously--especially tarragon and ginger--her favorite herb and spice.

    As for sugar, by the pinch or even teaspoonful it is a true enhancer, "ripening" or "freshening" such vegetables as tomatoes, peas and corn. And, along with vinegar or lemon, a little sugar adds that touch of piquant to vegetable sauces and salad dressings.

    In the same flavor-enhancing category with salt and sugar are:

lemon and lime juice and rind
sour cream or yogurt - vinegars and wines


    Tarragon Vinegar: Loosely fill a jar with fresh tarragon leaves. Pour in apple cider or white wine vinegar to cover the leaves. Cover and allow to stand for a week or two. Strain and funnel into a bottle and cork it.

    Condiments are by definition taste-bud-teasing mixtures added to or served along with food. They are seasoning short-cuts, some of which used to be prepared in the kitchen, particularly during canning and preserving season.

bouillon cubes or powder - catsup and chili sauce - chutney
horseradish sauce - kitchen bouquet - Maggi seasoning - miso [a soybean paste]
mustard [prepared] - pickles and pickle relish - soy sauce - Tabasco
tahini [ground sesame seed] - vegetable seasoning [Spike] - Worcestershire sauce


    Horseradish Sauce: To a grated horseradish root  add 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a pinch of sugar.

    Kitchen Bouquet is a concentrated condiment easy to make and which includes representatives of all branches of the Seasoning Tree. Chop 1 onion, 2 celery stalks, 2 carrots. Place in a pan with 2 cups water and 1 bay leaf and 1 clove garlic. Add 1 tablespoon each fresh [or 1 teaspoon dried] parsley and sage [or oregano or marjoram], 1 teaspoon each black pepper, paprika and allspice. Cook until vegetables are tender and liquid is reduced to about half. Strain. Carmelize 1 cup sugar in an iron skillet over low heat. When brown, slowly add the liquid bouquet. Stir until the sugar is melted. Pour the mixture through a funnel into a bottle and add to soups and sauces to intensify both flavor and color.

    Celery and Onion Salt: In the root-base of celery and onion their flavor is concentrated. Thinly slice these usually discarded parts. Allow them to dehydrate in an oven heated to low and then turned off. When brittle-dry grate or grind and combine with salt or use straight as a vegetable seasoning.


 

SEASONING OILS AND SEASONED BUTTERS
 

 butter - margarine - olive oil - sesame oil

    Even a few drops of olive oil has an enlivening effect on certain vegetables artichokes and green beans for example--while sesame oil, used very sparingly, is an oriental vegetable-seasoning secret. Butter--it doesn't take much--imparts both savor and richness, particularly with herbs added. Beulah sometimes uses half butter and half olive oil, or butter with a few drops of sesame oil.

    Basil/Garlic Pesto is the Italian soup seasoning: Mash with a mortar and pestle, or put in a blender: 2 cloves garlic [cut in pieces], and 2 cups chopped fresh basil. Blend in cup olive oil and 1 cup Parmesan cheese. Add a teaspoon of pesto, just before serving, to each bowl of fresh vegetable soup. Or, for a simple but superb main dish, toss pesto into hot pasta and fresh vegetables such as peas, beans or mushrooms slices and/or green and/or red pepper strips.

    Herbed Butter is the wedding of herb-essence to butterfat. The secret of how this is done begins with unsalted butter. Otherwise the salt--a drawing agent--will cause the moisture in the butter to "weep," and with it the savor of the herbs. For calorie counters, 1 teaspoon of herbed butter--about 25 calories worth--is enough to flavorfully dress a heaping serving of steamed vegetables.

    To Make Herbed Butter--Cream 4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter; add teaspoon lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons very finely minced fresh herbs. [Or use 2 teaspoons dried herbs, or 1 teaspoon dried plus 1 tablespoon fresh parsley or chives. Try different of the Fine Herbs combinations.
    Herbed Creamed Cheese--Make as above and use for stuffing celery or as a cracker or sandwich spread.
    Water Cress Butter--Make as above and use in soups or for sandwiches.
    Garlic Butters--Several hours before needed, bury a peeled quartered clove of garlic in half a cube of softened butter. Before using, remove garlic and sharpen the butter with a few drops of lemon juice.


 GARNISHES

    Garnishes are added after cooking or preparing a dish, and as much for eye appeal as taste. A sprinkling of fresh, green herbs over buttered potatoes . . . a dash of bright red paprika on each cob of corn . . . sieved egg yolks to top a bed of steamed chard. And there you have before you a plate that, instead of a third-day-in-a-row repeat performance, looks appetizingly brand-new. The list of garnishes is long and open-ended. Here are a few:

apples [chopped] - bread crumbs - capers - celery - cheese
chives [minced] - cocoanut - croutons - dates [chopped]
dill weed [snipped] - eggs [sieved or chopped] - ginger [crystalized]
green peppers [also red, chopped or rings] - jelly [tart] - lemon wedges
nuts--almonds, cashews, peanuts - olives - onions [chopped] - orange slices
paprika - parsley - pepper [freshly ground] - pickles [chopped]
radishes [chopped or curled] - raisins - seeds--caraway, poppy,
sesame, sunflower - sour cream - yogurt - water cress

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