My name is Denise and I love herbs!
One of my earliest herb memories is standing on a chair in the kitchen, beside my Mam, and picking the thyme leaves off the stem for stuffing, rissoles, or our family special, ‘pigeon pie’. Picking the tiny thyme leaves was a tedious job that required patience, but not a huge amount of skill, so it was the perfect way to involve a young child in the cooking process. It was an important job and I was very careful to pick out every last bit of stem that fell into the bowl.
Good food has always been hugely important to our family, and we were practically self-sufficient long before it became fashionable.
My parents bought their first house in suburban Dublin in the 1960’s, from the plans. They picked the house with the biggest garden, in a quiet cul-de-sac, surrounded by fields. Suburban gardens were huge back then compared to now. Mam and Dad planned and developed the garden themselves and within a few years they had transformed a barren plot into a miniature paradise.
The orchard was at the very end of the garden, along with the bee hive and hen coop. The soft fruits were next and then the vegetable garden. As well as the usual potatoes, cabbage, etc., they also grew the more exotic vegetables, such as asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli and kohlrabi. In the greenhouse, along with the tomatoes, were aubergines, peppers, chillies and sweet corn.
The herb garden was in front of the greenhouse. It was a beautiful arrangement of crazy paving circular beds, interlinked with stepping stone paths. This was always my favourite part of the garden.
My Dad was a keen hunter and fisherman. Game was everyday fare for us. Dad also designed and built his own BBQ with a chimney, so that he could smoke his own food. We regularly dined on smoked pheasant, pigeon and home-smoked fish, and had ‘clam bakes’ where a huge selection of shellfish was cooked on the BBQ within a bed of fresh seaweed.
To complete the picture, homemade bread, cakes, preserves, country wines and liqueurs were also an everyday part of our culinary experience.
When I was growing up all the neighbours called us ‘The Good Life’. How true that was. As a teenager, I found it quite embarrassing, especially when the hens escaped onto the street. It is only with hindsight that I realize what a wonderful gift my parents gave to us all. They both put so much effort into providing the best food possible for their family. It is only natural that cooking and eating together was always a special occasion and still is an integral part of any family celebration.
I must admit that I was never a great help in the garden. However I was good in the kitchen and I progressed from picking thyme leaves to picking the herbs of my choice and creating my own culinary inventions. I intend to share many of them with you on my website and blog.