CULTURAL & HISTORICAL TIDBITS
A hardy perennial herb, chives (Allium schoenoprasum) & Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are two of the easiest herbs to grow and use. Chives are members of the Allium genus, a large group of over 500 species (edible and ornamental) worldwide. Most Americans are introduced to the onion chive as a topping for a baked potato. Its distinct yet subtle flavor holds its own even when smothered in butter, cheese, sour cream and bacon bits. This relationship between dairy and chives may have started in Holland back in the 19th century: it is believed that farmers intentionally fed cows chives to produce an onion-flavored milk.
Originating in Asia, legend has it that Siberians offered chives to Alexander the Great because it was the only green plant available. Built to be used frequently throughout the growing season, chives can be cut and trimmed throughout the summer producing new growth several times.
Garlic chives, also called Chinese chives, grow in the same manner but their leaves are flatter and offer a subtle garlic flavor and aroma. Garlic chives are often used in stir fries, sprinkling over the cooked ingredients just before serving.
Though the Romanian Gypsies hung bunches of chives on their bedposts to ward off evil spirits (and perhaps spouses!), their most common use is culinary. Chopped finely, chives can be added to salads, salsas, soups, eggs, cheese dishes, and seafood. Dried chives are usually disappointing in flavor and texture; enjoy the herb when in season and try freezing for later use.
Fresh chives add plant-based nutrients to your meals. They are high in vitamins A, C, and K and like other members of the Allium (onion) family they offer anti-oxidant benefits.
IN THE GARDEN
A hardy perennial herb (zone 3), chives are one of the first herbs to show up in early spring, growing in grass-like clumps with green hollow leaves. They produce pink to purple balls of many flowers usually from April through June. Some believe that chives serve well as a companion plant to veggies because their volatile oil has anti-fungal and insecticide properties, discouraging aphids from visiting. Chives are incredibly easy to grow, requiring only occasional watering, pruning and a dose of diluted fish or kelp emulsion after pruning to nurture new growth. The easiest way to propagate them is to dig out the plant in early spring or early autumn and divide into several smaller plants. Replant or pot them up and give away. Chives can also be planted in a pot and brought inside for fresh snips of the hollow green spears during the winter.
The slender hollow green leaves can be harvested throughout the summer by snipping the outer leaves of the plant an inch above soil level. The flowers should be harvested as soon as they bloom; they fade quickly. The entire plant can be pruned to soil level after flowering and usually it will regrow and occasionally flower again. At the end of the growing season, chives can be trimmed to just a few inches above soil level, mulched with compost or straw and the chopped leaves frozen in water or olive oil for winter’s use.
RECIPE: Chive Butter
I am sure that chives were created for the sole purpose of topping a big baked potato stuffed with butter, sour cream and cheese. The problem is that the chives are long gone by the time you get to the bottom half of the spud. The solution is simple: blend 1- 3 Tbsp. of minced chives (toss in a few flower petals) into 1/2 cup of soft butter, form into a log and wrap tightly with plastic wrap and wax paper and freeze for up to 6 months. Alternatively, spoon the softened chive butter into small silicone molds or ice cube trays, freeze and store the butter chips in a freezer bag. You can also add chopped parsley and chopped rosemary to the butter. Butter chips are my favorite way to preserve the spring flavor of chives and other herbs. In addition to topping the classic baked potato, they can be used on cooked veggies, steak, chicken and fish. Minced chives can also be added to sour cream and stored in the fridge for up to a week.
RECIPE: Chive Blossoms Vinegar
Don't toss those lovely lavender-pinkish flowers! They also have a delicate onion flavor and can be added to the Chive Butter or tossed into salads. (It's always fun to serve edible flowers to people who are not accustomed to eating flowers!) But my favorite use is to make Chive Blossoms Vinegar:
1) Cut chive flowers just as they are beginning to bloom. You will need 2-3 cups of flowers. Leaves can be cut and added to fill out the amount or to add a stronger flavor to the vinegar. No need to wash unless dirty. Pat dry after washing.
2) Stuff blossoms into a glass container (I use Mason quart or pint jars). The more flowers you use, the stronger the flavor.
3) Fill with white wine vinegar or the sweeter rice vinegar. Avoid using distilled white vinegar since its harshness will interfere with the delicate flavor of the chive. (Distilled white vinegar is best used for making herbal cleaning solutions.) Be sure to cover all flowers.
4) Use a plastic lid. Metal lids react with vinegar and affect the flavor and color (plus they make a gooey black mess). No plastic lids? Place a piece of wax paper or plastic between the jar and metal lid.
5) Set aside in a dark pantry or cabinet for 3 weeks for a light flavor or 4 - 6 weeks for a stronger oniony flavor. The pink flowers will tint the vinegar a lovely pinkish color. Strain when ready to use. The color will fade over several months time but it likely won't last long enough for you to notice!
Salad dressings, cucumber salad, fresh tomato slices, steamed veggies, meat marinade, splashes in soup at the time of serving.
Decanted into a pretty bottle and corked, it makes a unique present from your garden.
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