French Herbs for the Garden/Potager
As promised, we will discuss possibilities for your French herb garden/potager.
Rosemary, featured above, is one of the few herbs remaining green during winter, at least in this section of the southern United States. Numerous culinary sources indicate its importance to French cooking, and luckily, it can thrive with little maintenance. Many types of herbs seem to make an appearance in various French meals, so it may be easier to choose herbs based on traditional combinations, such as fines herbes or herbes de Provence. What constitutes such combinations, though? Well, that depends upon your source! Let's take a look.
A quick internet search tells you that fines herbes may refer to parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil. Yet, if you read the French cookbook from 1654, Les Delices de La Campagne, you will find "herbes fines"including thyme and marjoram, among others. There are so many variations on this, though, even if you try to limit the choices to a North American version. Some may say there is no such thing as a version of French herbs from a non-European continent, but let's remember the numerous Francophone communities across the globe, trying to replicate what was found in their motherland while adapting to a different growing climate. This leads to a search through cookbooks aimed for areas like Québec. For example, La Cuisinière Bourgeoise, originally written in 1825, mentions fines herbes including thyme, bay leaf, and basil. Basically, there seems to be a consensus for finer, lighter tasting herbs in this category.
Herbes de Provence
Many people seem to be fond of Herbes de Provence along with the affiliation with sun-drenched fields of fragrant flowers. This category is the inspiration for the Floramont herb garden, consisting of rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, and possibly lavender, if there is better luck growing it next year. Other sources mention savory, which may be a bit more challenging to grow in this area. Basil is sometimes mentioned, so perhaps the existing container of basil will overwinter nicely in the "conservatory." However, this form of Basil may overpower the traditional essence of Herbes de Provence. This is deemed to be a relatively new category in the world of French cuisine, although cooks in Provence have been utilizing these herbs for ages. Just experiment with what suits your Provençal palate!
You may already know about bouquet garni, referring to herbs often tied in cheesecloth for flavoring soups, sauces and such. Thyme, parsley, and bay leaf are common components. However, as you can see in our list of Culinary Terms found in historical cookbooks aimed for Francophone cooks in North America, the definition can expand to other herbs such as marjoram, celery, sage, and spices such as peppercorn. More pungent ingredients may find their way into a bouquet garni when compared to the lighter Fines Herbes.
If the aforementioned possibilities seem rather tame for your taste, then you may enjoy growing spices used in traditional Cajun cuisine. Cayenne peppers are key components, while some recipes include herbs like coriander, thyme, and basil. Other ingredients, like paprika, would involve a bit more prep work beyond the garden. While glancing through some Acadian cookbooks, you may be surprised by the simplicity of additional herbs when compared to ingredient labels of various Cajun spice combinations. As you can imagine, people have pretty strong feelings about what constitutes a traditional sauce, so just go with what you like.
Other Seasonings in French Cuisine
It can be somewhat tricky to define an herb, but garlic is mentioned in numerous variations of the typical French and Cajun seasoning combinations. The same is true for onions and shallots. The base of many French sauces requires some combination of what you will find in this list. If you do not like strong garlic and onions, then find a more delicate tasting variation of a shallot, such as the Zebrune variety, also known as Cuisse de Poulet du Poitou.
Are there any traditional French herbs missing from this list? If so, then please feel free to send a comment below!