Today is St. Martha’s feast day and it seems so appropriate that this icon of cookery is celebrated just as July begins its slide into August and the herbs are coming into their full splendor.
The herbs in my kitchen garden just outside the sliding glass kitchen doors are now lush and tempting bouquets. They echo the fields in Provence where Martha is said to have journeyed after the Resurrection with her sister Mary and her brother, Lazarus. Every summer, in the hopes that this pious legend is true, I craft pots of these cooking herbs in her honor and nestle them at the base of the small St. Francis fountain on the patio. They are in easy reach there when I’m cooking and I love nothing quite so much as pinching off stalks of fresh parsley, oregano and sage to use when cooking.
This morning, as the swallowtail butterflies swarmed the parsley pot and the Russian Sage attracted incoming dragonflies, I thought of Martha and the landscape she might have encountered nearly 2000 years ago after fleeing Judea. Would she, back then, have walked through fields of the aromatics that flourish in the hills in the hot summer months? Would she have learned from the women there how to dry and blend the herbs for use over the year in seasoning. Did she already know when she got there?
I like to think she did.
I like to imagine that she gathered them and used them in all manner of food as she nourished Mary and Lazarus and whoever fled with them and helped them regather their strength and their sense of joy. I always imagine that Martha, practical and wise, steered their journey and served them good food to make them physically whole.
You can buy Herbes de Provence in almost any supermarket these days but it’s so much fun to make it. Bay leaf, thyme, fennel, rosemary, chervil, oregano, summer savory, tarragon, mint and marjoram are some of the herbs traditionally used. I tie them in bunches and hang them around my kitchen and enjoy their savory aroma as they dry. You can add any summer herb of choice for richness of taste and some people like to add orange zezt and lavender as a kind of homage to Provence.
The one herb I include every time though, is tarragon which is native to the Tarascon area where Martha is said to be buried. When they are dried, I crumble the leaves and then, mix them together and store them for use in a Ball canning jar though in Provence, it is the custom to store them in terracotta jars.
Herbes de Provence
Ingredients: 1 tablespoon each thyme, chervil, rosemary, summer savory, lavender, tarragon, marjoram; 1/2 teaspoon oregano and mint and 2 choppped bay leaves.
Preparation: mix all of the ingredients together and store in a tightly sealed container. They are very good mixed with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed onto chicken or fish, sprinkled on tomatoes or chunks of roasting potato, add to spaghetti sauce or in soups and stews.