Saturday, August 04, 2007

Garden cooking

So I have this little postage-stamp garden, planted from the example of a green-thumbed friend in Winston-Salem (who was one of my visitors last month and who chided me for under-watering my tomatoes, but that's another story). It contains a mismash of herbs and vegetables, some planted with a definite culinary purpose, some for amusement--like "Simon Gardenfunkel" here:
Pop quiz: what could these four herbs possibly be?

...and some just because I have romantic childhood associations with the names. The lemon verbena bush falls into the last category. Lemon verbena was supposedly Laura Ingalls Wilder's favorite scent (according to a source I totally can't remember right now) and another word for the verbena family (confusingly NOT related to lemon verbena) is vervaine, which is the surname of one of my favorite supporting characters in one of my favorite books ever.

The plant itself is an unassuming shrub with a glorious lemony-floral smell. Because the species is native to warmer climates, mine will probably die this fall unless I can find a place for it inside--so I've been searching for ways to preserve its lovely flavor.

After tinkering a bit in the kitchen (and let me tell you, it can get downright dangerous in there!), I hit on the idea of combining lemon verbena with the blackberries that are so plentiful in farmers' markets right now. The lemon flavor is not obvious, discernible mostly through its scent and lingering aftertaste, like a faint but delicious memory of your favorite summer.

Without further ado, I give you:

Megan's Blackberry Nostalgia Sauce
(with thanks to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and to Rebekah for her excellent taste in cookbooks)

  • 2 cups fresh blackberries. Buy these from a farmers' market, if at all possible. You will need 2-3 of the little square boxes laughably called "pints."
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tb cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tb water
  • At least 9 large lemon verbena leaves. You can see from the picture above that they grow around the stem in threes; I clipped off a stem below the third full-size trefoil and included all the leaves, even the little baby ones, in the pot. Add more leaves if you want a stronger lemon flavor.
Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the mixture is gently bubbling, simmer on low. Stir constantly, mushing blackberries with a wooden spoon or potato masher:

After sauce has thickened (about 10 mins), remove from heat and pour into a strainer that has been set over a bowl or other container. Continue crushing blackberry mixture until all liquid is extracted and only skin and seeds remain in strainer. (You could also use cheesecloth and squeeze the mixture to get the most sauce-y goodness possible, but be careful not to burn yourself.):

Yields: Oh, I dunno. A cup or two, I guess.

You can eat this over ice cream, but it would be especially nice on pound cake or some other base that won't overwhelm the delicate flavor of the lemon verbena. Bon appetit!

Coming next:
Pesto for a Broken Heart!