March 7, 2008

Culinary Herbs by M.G.Kains 1912

I have an obsession with books that started in elementary school. I devoured everything I could get my hands on. I checked books out at our local library, the school library, explored my grandmothers bookshelves and even thumbed through my Dad's Popular Mechanics magazines. I convinced, Mr. Noot, our school librarian to allow me to check out three books each week because only one book was not enough to last the entire week between visits to the library. He was a kind and generous man endulging my voracious appetite for books. I think I was a librarian's dream come true. A kid interested in reading and returning the books on time and in good order.

I received every imaginable reward that a kid can receive for reading. Our school system rewarded something I did naturally - read. I suppose I was considered a "book worm" in those days. It didn't occur to me to care.

I still love to read although I don't make time for it these days. I am always so busy doing other things, shepherding teenagers, running a business, spending as much time as possible with my parents, etc. It's a busy life these days.

But, I still manage to squeeze in time for my obsession. I especially love old volumes regarding things I love like nature, plants, birds, handcrafts, etc.

I found this old book published in 1912 and thought you might enjoy a sampling. I have included a few illustrations as well.

History of Culinary Herbs

Relying upon Biblical records alone, several herbs were highly esteemed prior to our era; in the gospels of Matthew and Luke reference is made to tithes of mint, anise, rue, cummin and other "herbs"; and more than 700 years previously, Isaiah speaks of the sowing and threshing of cummin which, since the same passage (Isaiah xxviii, 25) also speaks of "fitches" (vetches), wheat, barley, and "rie" (rye), seems then to have been a valued crop.

"To prepare a dinner of herbs in its best estate you should have a bed of seasonings such as our grandmothers had in their gardens, rows of sage, of spicy mint, sweet marjoram, summer savory, fragrant thyme, tarragon, chives and parsley. To these we may add, if we take herbs in the Scriptural sense, nasturtium, and that toothsome esculent, the onion, as well as lettuce. If you wish a dinner of herbs and have not the fresh, the dried will serve, but parsley and mint you can get at most times in the markets, or in country gardens, where they often grow wild."

"Do you know, my sister housewife, that if you were to have a barrel sawed in half, filled with good soil, some holes made in the side and the placed the prepared half barrel in the sun, you could have an herb garden of your own the year through, even if you live in a city flat? In the holes at the sides you can plant parsley, and it will grow to cover the barrel, so that you have a bank of green to look upon. On the top of the half barrel plant you mint, sage, thyme and tarragon. Thyme is so pleasing a plant in appearance and fragrance that you may acceptably give it a place among those you have in your window for ornament."


"Of course you will not have a meal without salad. For this try a mixture of nasturtium leaves and blossoms, tarragon, chives, mint, thyme and the small leaves of the lettuce, adding any other green leaves of the spicy kind which you find to taste good. Then dress these with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, omitting sugar, mustard or any such flavoring, for there is spice enough in the leaves themselves."

"When it comes to a dessert I am afraid you will have to go outside of herbs. You can take a cream cheese and work into it with a silver knife any of these herbs, or any two of them that agree with it well, and serve it with toasted crackers, or you can toast your crackers with common cheese, grating above it sage and thyme."

To learn to value herbs at their true worth one should grow them. Then every visitor to the garden will be reminded of some quotation from the Bible, or Shakespeare or some other repository of interesting thoughts; for since herbs have been loved as long as the race has lived on the earth, literature is full of references to facts and fancies concerning them. Thus the herb garden will become the nucleus around which cluster hoary legends, gems of verse and lilts of song, and where one almost stoops to remove his shoes, for

"The wisdom of the ages

Blooms anew among the sages."

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