Sometimes a person comes into your life just like a shooting star—lighting up the sky and sending sparks into the universe. Rachel Williamson is a person like that. She stayed for a summer on our farm some years ago, and I instantly liked her so much that I gave her a couple of garden beds to tend. She had a lot of seedlings and not much space, so she planted intensively with wild companionship. I admit I had my doubts about the crowded plots, especially when the weather turned dry. Rachel hauled water and brewed 55-gallon tanks of herb tea to water her plants, and everything thrived! I am reminded of her garden each year when the volunteers from her sunflowers come up and brighten another growing season.
Rachel has a farm of her own now, and she makes tea for people. She moved farther north up the Blue Ridge Mountain Range to an acre of land near Afton, Virginia, where she grows herbs and vegetables and turns them into the most wonderfully flavorful teas and culinary herb blends imaginable. You can choose from “Civili-Teas” or “Profani-Teas”depending on your sense of decorum (or lack thereof). Do you feel like “Content-Mint” or want to “Cheer the F***Up”?
She also offers culinary blends with names like “Smoke”(smoked chiles, garlic and herbs—good for all things south of the border), Sicilian”( for the love of Sicily–dried tomato, smoked peppers, herbs…divine on pasta and in olive oil), “First Frost” (lemony, smoky flavor made with all the vegetables saved from the garden before the first frost, smoked and dried), and “Salt of the Earth” (lovage, parsley, onion, sweet and hot peppers, garlic, winter savory, thyme…A.K.A. “Good Salty S***”! Rachel markets her herbs mostly at fairs and farmers’ markets in her area, but offers them for sale on her website, fairweatherfarmers.com.
I mostly avoided using dried herbs before I tried Rachel’s. Hers are the distillation of summer and are so tasty that I lick them off my hand. I pretty much sprinkle her herbs on everything–salads, soups, lentil and bean dishes, grilled or roasted vegetables, rice pilafs and various grains, roast chicken or meat, pop-corn…its an easy way to make almost anything taste more wonderful.
Here are some ideas, or excuses, from Rachel’s website for using herb blends.
Rachel’s Salad Dressing
A note from Rachel: “I don’t actually follow recipes.” I would say she learned that from me, but it is just a trait we have in common.
Ingredients: 2 tsp dried herb blend of choice, 1 to 5 cloves garlic, and 1/2 to 1 Tsp sea or kosher salt (some herb blends include salt), 2/3-cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Use an immersion blender or a large mortar and pestle and whisk to make a smooth puree of the herbs, garlic, salt, and oil. Drizzle in the vinegar last.
About garlic: The more garlic, the creamier the dressing. Use an entire head of garlic in the recipe to make a thick aioli sauce.
“Nothing could make me happier in January than an intensely garlicky dressing over a giant salad of tender baby kale, arugula, and mizuna topped with copious chunks of grapefruit and avocado. It’s enough to make you dream about winter all summer long.” Rachel
Ingredients: 5-clove (at least) garlicky salad dressing, 2 to 3 generous handfuls mixed baby spinach or kale and other spicy greens per person, avocado slices, grapefruit chunks
Follow Rachel’s description and dream.
Ingredients: 1 cup olive oil, 1 Tbs dried herb blend of choice
Rub the herbs between your palms to release their scent as you sprinkle them into the oil. Stir well and allow to steep 1 or more hours before using. Alternatively, warm the herbs and oil gently in a pan over low heat for 1 to 3 minutes. Do not allow to simmer. Pour the oil into a jar or bowl and allow to steep 10 to 15 minutes before using.
Use for dipping bread or toast, drizzle on roasted or grilled vegetables, mix with beans or lentil salads, toss with pasta, brush on pizza dough, broiled fish, or grilled chicken…
Homemade Herb Salt
I ran out of Rachel’s herb blends and decided to try some batches of herb salt with the herbs still growing in my late fall garden. I still had rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, cutting celery, parsley, dill, and a few angelica leaves. Oh, and garlic.
Basic recipe: 1/2 cup coarse sea salt, 3/4 to 1 cup fresh herbs, 1/2 cup fine sea salt
Put the herbs (no stems) in a food processor with 1/2 cup coarse salt. Pulse to chop the herbs and blend them with the salt. Add the fine salt and stir. Spread the herb-salt mixture on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 200 degrees for about 2 hours.
Sample blends: Rosemary-sage-garlic, rosemary-sage-thyme, thyme-celery leaf-chives-lemon zest-garlic-angelica…mix and match. Add freshly ground black pepper, red Chile flakes, or smoked jalapeno chiles if you like.
Awesome Potato Soup
I made this today using Rachel’s “Barcelona” herb blend. Never underestimate the value of a good potato.
Ingredients: 2 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs olive oil, 2 bay leaves, 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion, 1 diced carrot, 2 thinly sliced stalks celery, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 4 cups water, 6 to 8 cups diced potatoes (about 1 pound), 2 tsp dried herb blend (I used a blend of smoked sweet pepper, parsley, parsley, onion, ancho chile, chipotle, garlic greens, and criolla sella pepper…the “Rivanna” mix of dill, lemon thyme, pepper and winter savory would by good, too), 1 cup milk or cream, salt, freshly ground black pepper, chopped fresh parsley.
Warm the butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in bay leaves, onion, carrot, and celery. Cover and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes. Add the water, potatoes ,herbs, and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer slowly until the potatoes are completely tender, about 25 minutes.
Use an immersion blender, blender or potato masher to puree the soup with milk or cream. Taste, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.