Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Garden Chervil

One of the great pleasures of early spring is to wander through the garden seeing what plants have survived the winter and can be gleaned for early greenery. Last year we planted chervil for the first time. As not unusual with things planted for the first time, it just sat there as we didn't do anything with it. Well, it flowered and went to seed, and the seeds dropped, and germinated in the fall. They overwintered nicely and now last years' herb bed is awash in chervil plants.

Chervil is one of the traditional French fines herbes, along with tarragon, parsley, and chives. Parsley and chives are also shooting up in the garden already. I don't grow any tarragon, as I can't stand the stuff. It's odd: I like almost everything licorice or anise flavoured, but tarragon is the loathsome exception. Chervil is, if anything, more strongly licorice/anise flavoured, and I like it very much so far. I've put it in a mixed salad, and one other thing, the recipe for which I will post on Friday.

The flavour of the fresh chervil is delicate, bright and clear, but it fades considerably with drying. It does not seem to be readily available either fresh or dried; I think it is one of those things that if you want it, you must usually grow it yourself. Mind you, while it is a different species than the invasive wild chervil, it plainly can become a self-inflicted weed. The good news is that although it prefers a moist, cool spot with a bit of shade, it is quite tolerant and easy to grow. It may bolt more readily in a hotter, drier location such as the one it has in my garden, but it could be succession planted if you were able to give it that much attention. I think I will be happy to let it wander around the garden at will, mostly available for picking in the spring and fall. It's not as hard to weed out as it looks either. The roots are deepish, but the leaves spread out from a single tap root and it can be ripped out in clumps.

The flavour is very distinct. A little bit will brighten up a salad, or use it in sauces with fish, chicken, cheese, eggs, or other protein dishes not too heavy in flavour. I think it would be a bit lost with beef, pork or lamb, but maybe, if deployed carefully. Delicate vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, peas, carrots, potatoes, and zucchini will go with it well. In any case, it will lose flavour if cooked, so chop it finely and add it to your dish at the last moment.

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