Monday, February 27, 2012

It's A Matter of Thyme

Thyme is one of my all-around favorite cooking herbs. But - there's a lot more to this lovely little plant than sprinkling it over your chicken, oh yes indeed! The genus Thymus offers us an amazing variety, from shrubby to creeping and from wonderfully fragrant to beautifully ornamental.

Along with its usefulness, Thyme also has a message for us! According to Kathleen Gips in her book Flora's Dictionary: The Victorian Language of Herbs and Flowers, Thyme's meaning in a bouquet is "Thriftiness, Happiness, Courage". And Lemon Thyme says "My time with you is a pleasure"! The species name Thymus might derive from the Greek thymon, meaning "courage".

So, just now, I gathered my courage and sat down with pen and paper... and came up with twenty-one different types of thyme without even heating up a brain cell: Common, French, Orange Balsam, Lemon, Lemon Variegated, Lime, Yellow Transparent, Elfin, Pink Ripple, Pink Chintz, English Wedgwood, Caraway, Hop-Headed, Thracicus, Ibukiensis, Red Creeping, Doone Valley, Longwood, Golden, Wooly, Silver...  and the list goes on and on from there!
Here's a lovely grouping, planted in a large, handmade hypertufa trough. The little variegated one in center front is 'Doone Valley' - I neglected to write down the rest! 

(Might pop those names in later, if I think to go back to the greenhouses and take a peek.)

Is it any wonder that Thyme was thought to enable one to see fairies? I can just imagine them peeking through the tiny branches to take a look in return.

In general, thymes like a well-drained soil, full sun, and not too much water. In my garden, I fertilize thyme only if I'm growing it in a pot. Bloom colors range from white to pink, lavender, and near-red. 

And this miniature "tree" is actually a hop-headed thyme. It looks like a bonsai, but actually achieves this look without the years of pruning and shaping. Love it with the succulents around it - and they all like similar conditions (dry, well-drained).

Wouldn't you love to hang a tiny swing from the lowest branch... ;-)

 A lush little "Ibukiensis" thyme - this variety has lovely pinkish blooms in the summertime. 

The one thing that this photo can't convey is the soft, cushiony feel of this plant. After I photographed it, I just ran my hand over it and smiled.

Rock gardens are ideal for these lovelies, and they are just gorgeous when tumbling over the edge of a stone wall.There are quite a few low-growing types that work well in pathways or between stepping stones, too. "Red Creeping" is a reasonably-tough favorite for paths, and the dainty leaves of 'Elfin', 'Pink Chintz', and fuzzy little Wooly Thyme are precious in lower-traffic areas.

Culinary Thymes

For most culinary uses, I usually like either Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) or French thyme (T. vulgaris spp.).

For a little flavor twist there's Lemon thyme, which comes in both green-leaved (picture to the right) and  gold-and-green variegated forms.

So. We have a bunch of culinary thyme on our hands... what next? Thyme pairs well with many types of food. I especially love it with lighter-flavored meats (fish, chicken, pork), eggs, vinaigrette-type salad dressings, and lots of different vegetables (dried beans, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes for sure). It also goes well with citrus flavors, and believe it or not, in sugar cookies!

Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette
From Herbs: Cultivating & Cuisine by Carol Asher, ISBN 913383759 
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon thyme leaves, chopped*

Whisk mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper together. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add thyme. Makes about ¾ cup.
*note from Jules: regular thyme works fine, too.

Jules' Poultry Seasoning
4 tsp sage
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano

Grind all herbs to a powder.  Store in a tightly closed container, in a cool, dark place. For every-day use, I blend 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of the mix with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, brush over chicken or fish, and bake. In fact, that's what's going on some bone-in chicken for supper tonight! ;-)

Fish Baked with Thyme-Scented Mushrooms
From The Courier-Journal newspaper
1 pound sliced mushrooms (a mix of fresh mushrooms is good)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon (freshly ground) black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound tilapia fillets, or other firm-fleshed fish

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread mushrooms over a wide, shallow baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt, peppers, thyme and garlic. Stir to distribute evenly. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, stir mushrooms; push them away from center. Place fish in the middle. Turn the fillets over, drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Bake 15 minutes, or until fish is cooked through. Serve with wilted spinach and garlic toast (or wild rice mix).
Serves 4. 

Thyme-Lemon Cookies
Recipe appeared in SUNSET magazine, credited to Janet Moore, Beulah, CO
1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. dry thyme leaves
1 Tbl. grated lemon peel

Combine butter and 1 ½ cups sugar; beat until thoroughly blended.  Beat in eggs until smooth.  Add flour, baking powder, thyme, and lemon peel; mix well. Chill dough for 1 hour. Put remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl.  Shape spoonfuls of dough into balls; drop into sugar & roll to coat.  Place 1 inch apart on ungreased 12x15" sheet.  Bake at 375° 12 to 15 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.


Hopefully these give you a few reasons to get some thyme on YOUR hands - Thanks for reading, and a heartfelt bouquet of Lemon Thyme to you - my time with you certainly is a pleasure!

- Jules

(And a big "THANK YOU" to Thieneman's Herbs and Perennials, for allowing me to play for a while in their sandbox and photograph their beautiful plants.)

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