Fresh Herbs: From Garden to Plate

Did you know that Eckert's has its own herb garden? We sure do. The Garden Center grows fresh herbs and we use them in our prepared foods. Since becoming a culinary gardener, we've been rewarded with flavor, fragrance, and a variety of texture, color and leaf shapes.

If you have never grown herbs before, but are considering it, let us encourage you by telling you that they are super easy to grow and very tolerant plants. In fact, they often thrive and even produce the best flavors when kindly ignored (just keep them free of weeds). Herbs require well-drained soil or potting mix and about six hours per day of full sun. If you don't have space for a traditional garden, not to worry, as herbs will do excellent in containers, too.

If you are a beginning herb gardener, we recommend the following perennials: chives, marjoram, English thyme, sage and Italian oregano. These herbs will come back year after year. Basil is another great herb to try, but it is an annual, so it will have to re-planted each year.

We all know that kids like to help and gardening is a fun way to show them where their food comes from. Once you reap the benefits of your garden, cooking up some snacks with your fresh herbs will be both fun and delicious! Some favorites herbs for kids include chocolate mint (finely mince and add to your favorite brownie recipe), pineapple sage (actually tastes like the fruit) and French tarragon (tastes like black licorice)!

Once you begin to use fresh herbs in your favorite recipes, you'll never want to go back to using dried herbs again. But remember, a little goes a long way. You do not need much to make an extraordinary impact in your cooking.

Here are a just a few of our favorite recipes using fresh herbs, but let your taste buds guide you.

Crusty Tomato Basil Bites
4 medium sized tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped green or red bell peppers
1 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
2 garlic clove, pressed
8 large, fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese
1 small sourdough break loaf

In a medium bowl, combine tomato, bell pepper, onion and garlic. Stack basil leaves, cut into long thin strips. Add basil leaves to tomato mixture and add oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand 1-2 hours to let flavor blend.

Diagonally cut bread into long, thin slices. Broil or grill on both sides until golden brown. Spoon tomato mixture on to bread slices, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and add ground black pepper. Serve immediately!

Mom's Mint Punch
5 lemons
4 oranges
1 small grapefruit
1 6oz. can of pineapple juice (3/4 cup)
2 cups sugar
1 quart water
Two handfuls fresh mint leaves, washed

Squeeze lemons, oranges and grapefruit juice into a gallon pitcher or large container. Add rinds. Add pineapple juice. In medium saucepan, combine sugar, water and mint. Bring to boil, stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot liquid over the juice and rinds. Let cool. Squeeze out rinds and discard. Add enough water to make one gallon. Refrigerate.