It’s nearly Christmas – the schools have broken up and the queues are starting to get longer at the supermarket checkouts, so it can’t be long now. I was toying with the idea of using the title “It’s Christmas thyme” for this post – thyme is a herb with a name that lends itself to terrible puns. But let’s leave the cheesy puns for the Christmas crackers and get straight to the more important features of thyme.
As well as the comic potential of its name, thyme has some really good points. For one thing, it’s evergreen, looking good in the garden and ready to be picked for use in the kitchen all year round. Then there are the flowers – they may be small but they’re loaded with nectar and great for attracting pollinating insects into the garden. Bees love thyme flowers and can be kept happy for weeks on end if you grow a range of varieties with slightly different flowering times. Another thing in thyme’s favour is that it is relatively easy to grow. Give it some well-drained soil and lots of sunshine, and you should have a healthy and productive plant. It will grow happily in a pot, bucket or windowbox too. Maintenance is easy– cut back after the flowers are done so that the plant doesn’t get too big and woody, water pot-grown plants in really dry weather and pinch out the young, fresh springs to use in the kitchen. So the question has to be – why doesn’t everyone have at least one plant in their garden, or in a container on the patio or balcony?
At this time of year, when the basil and dill have given up through lack of warmth and sunshine, and the herbaceous perennials like chive and tarragon have retreated underground, evergreens like thyme, sage and rosemary are brilliant for adding freshness and flavour to winter cooking. Really, there’s no need to be buying pots of cellophane wrapped coriander or basil from the supermarket when the evergreen herbs are fresh, seasonal and easy to grow.
And, because it’s Christmas time (thyme?), I used some sprigs of orange scented thyme to add herby flavour to a cranberry conserve. This jam/sauce is versatile, tasty and a great addition to the Christmas table. The original recipe came from Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Christmas book (a great source of ideas if you are catering for vegetarians this Christmas), but I couldn’t resist adding some thyme to herb it up a bit. It’s great with cheese and crackers, in a sandwich, or even with a jacket potato. If there’s any left, I’m planning to serve it warm with Christmas dinner too.
I’m linking this recipe to Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season. This month the challenge is being hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and, as always, there’s a fabulous array of seasonal recipes to choose from – why not take a look…
But before you hop over to Karen’s blog, here’s the recipe –
Cranberry, orange and thyme conserve
juice of 3 oranges
400g granulated sugar
3 sprigs of orange scented thyme
3 tbsp port
Wash the cranberries and put them in a heavy-based pan with the water. Simmer gently until the cranberries are bursting and tender.
Take the pan off the heat and add the orange zest and juice, sugar and thyme. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved, then return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil. Keep boiling for 10 minutes, then take the pan from the heat again and test for a set (I used a chilled saucer to test it – put a small amount of the jam onto a saucer fresh out of the fridge, leave to cool a little then push it gently with your fingertip. If the surface wrinkles slightly then you have a set). If the setting point hasn’t been reached, put the pan back on the heat and boil for a further 5 minutes before testing again.
Once you have a set, pour the conserve into sterilised jars (washed then dried in a very low oven). When it’s cool, you can start enjoying the seasonal cranberry flavour.