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I’m feeling happy for the emergence on the food scene of Olia Hercules. I saw this film a while back and felt really thrilled to be learning from someone so deeply rooted in her own food traditions (and she’s deliberate on that plural) yet gifted with such a light and beautiful cook’s touch. That Ukrainian Green Borsht of hers is of course a much more vivacious cousin to my prosaic Schav.

Today in the Guardian is an excerpt from her new book Mamushka. I want it! Want want want! Because I know I’m going to be bowled over with inspiration, just as I was simply from reading about the way she uses fermented herbs in her lovely and simple soup.  Make sure to check out the link.

Her version uses dill, parsley, sorrel, celery, and spring onions. Get your herbs, roughly chop them, add salt, let them sit, put in a jar, store in a cool place. There’s a similar recipe for “Verdurette” in one of my favourite books, Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by The Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante. (I love that its authorship is described this way.) As a vegetable stock, and great replacement for (icky, IMHO) stock cubes or artificial powders, this French version from a Mrs. Jouaville of Laxou uses parsley, chervil, celery, and leeks and suggests swiss chard and celeriac as possible. “Chop the herbs, mix them with the salt, put the mixture in a jar, and close it airtight.  Store in a cool, dark place.”

In the past I’ve made herb preserves in this mode using carrots, and garlic, and rosemary, and why not, may I ask, nettles, or mustard garlic or anything you desire to embrace from the world of weeds?  Ramsons would be wonderful. I fancy some time adding lots of ginger and maybe black pepper and turmeric for something like a chickeny but vegan healing “bouillon.”

Canadians have their Herbes Salee, or Salted Herbs, another wonderful way to “Catch and Store” the abundance of garden herbs. These methods and names are all herb preserves in a continuum… IMG_5892 (1)

This time i just used celery, onion greens from planted, sprouted onions, fennel fronds and sorrel.  Wished I could have used my lovage, but it’s not thriving– it’s roots are completely enmeshed with the marjoram, which has taken over.  Wonder if I should have added some marjoram? IMG_5894

Oh, and I decided to include a little rosemary, “that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” Actually felt like whizzing the herbs in a food processor, and mixed in some sea salt.

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And packed them in a jar with a covering, because I had the impulse, of a little sauerkraut brine.  Just a little.  And after a few hours it already tastes so piquant and alive, even before all the bacteria start doing their delicious thing. Given the herbs and vegetables you choose to use, how much of them, whether you seek a flavoured wet-salt or a salted herb, or a fermented kind of condiment, you would need to experiment with the amount of sea salt you’d use. (If it were wetter than you wished, you could pour off some of the salt water even early on.) All this is relative. For something equivalent to 4 “bunches” Olia uses 4 tablespoons of salt.  For two pounds of herbs, Mrs Jouaville uses 1/2 pound of sea salt. Well-Preserved doesn’t seem to mention quantities, but recommends a strategy of “layering” salt.  So here we have different conceptualisations: one by mass, one by weight, one by technique. This is where tradition, confidence, and “artisan” comes in.  I seem to choose mass, because it’s visual.  And taste– because you can add salt but you can’t take it out– maybe start with a smaller amount, let things sit, and taste– I always say something saltier than tears but not so salty as the sea.

Easy. Recipes for the garden and the larder– imagine using not just in soups, to begin and to finish them, but also in salad dressings, sauces, pestos (as in this fermented nettle pesto).  I’m also thinking a fermented version of  Spanish Picada…  or a fermented version of a chimichuri like this one. I’ll finish for now, with some scenes from the Perennial Bed:

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Swords Sorrel, flowering

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Billows of Fennel, and hello strawberries!

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