Most of us think tomatoes or maybe corn. But when it comes to the true taste of a Minnesota summer, it’s fresh herbs for Laura Frerichs. Along with her husband, Adam Cullip, Frerichs owns Loon Organics in Hutchinson. The couple grow and sell vegetables and more than a dozen culinary and medicinal herbs through their CSA and at the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis.
We talk with Frerichs, who’s been growing herbs commercially for more than a decade, about tricks to get you to use the herbs in your garden, pairing herbs with vegetables, sage leaf mojitos and why you probably shouldn’t make scallion pesto.
Q: What are your favorite herbs?
A: It’s probably a tie between basil and parsley. They’re the most popular.
Q: Do you have a favorite herb that’s not so popular?
A: Lemon thyme. It has a delicate and perfumey taste that works well with fish, poultry and even pastries and desserts. We also grow sorrel. Most people aren’t familiar with it, but it’s acidic and tart and tastes kind of like rhubarb. A little goes a long way, but it’s great in pasta salad and as a simple sauce tossed on roasted cauliflower.
Q: Most herbs are fairly easy to grow. So lots of gardeners have lots of herbs. But using them can be a challenge. What are your tricks?
A: You need to seek out recipes that use herbs. I’ve also found that by cutting some herbs and keeping them in the fridge, you’ll use them more. Seeing them in there reminds you that you have them. And not having to go out in the garden and cut them saves a step when you’re cooking.
Another way to use herbs is to experiment. That’s how we cook. I made a potato salad last week, and I just went and got cuttings from nearly every herb we had growing. I chopped them up and added a whole cup of herbs to the potato salad. It was delicious. We’ve made basil ice cream, sage mojitos, and lemon balm iced tea.
Q: Have you had any herbal experiments that didn’t turn out so well?
A: I made a scallion pesto this spring. It turned out so oniony that I ended up adding parsley and spinach and salvaged it by making it into a relish.
Q: Most of us have tried our hand at basil pesto. But you don’t stop there, do you?
A: We make cilantro pesto. It’s so delicious, but I don’t use pine nuts. I love them, but they’re expensive and they pair better with basil. For cilantro pesto, I use almonds or pecans.
Q: There was a time when herbs were used mostly as garish. Who can forget that lonely sprig of parsley? Do you do a lot of garnishing?
A: No. We may add some fresh herbs on top of a dish, but it’s meant to be eaten. We’re vegetable farmers. We eat everything.
Q: You like pairings, so let’s play vegetable/herb association. I’ll say the name of a veggie and you tell me which herb best pairs with it:
Cucumber — dill
Summer squash — sage
Tomato — basil
Peas — tarragon
Radishes — cilantro
Q: Huh. I thought you’d put cilantro with tomato.
A: I can’t figure out why cilantro and tomato are such a culinary pair, because they don’t grow at the same time. I get basil and tomatoes, but cilantro and tomatoes? It tastes good, but you can’t harvest them at the same time, even in Mexico.
Q: What’s coming in now?
A: Basil will be coming in soon. But wait for it. The local basil is so much better than the grocery store stuff.
Q: Any other herb advice?
A: Thyme and sage aren’t just summer herbs. They’re great now. I have tomatoes with thyme and a little bit of fresh sage. Fried sage leaves are terrific, too.
Q: By the end of summer, most of us have lots of leftover herbs. Is it worth it to save them?
A: Oh, yes. They taste so much better.
Q: So, what’s the best way to store herbs?
A: The woody herbs — thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary — those are the ones we dry. Just grab a bunch, put a rubber band around them and hang them upside down from the ceiling. (Be sure to keep them out of the sun because they’ll fade a little bit.) We store dry herbs — whole — in mason jars. We don’t crush them up until we use them. Once you crush them, they start to lose their aromatic qualities.
Q: And for the other herbs?
A: We freeze dill, parsley and basil. We just put each herb in a food processor with a little bit of oil and garlic, then freeze them in ice cube trays. Once they’re frozen, pop the cubes out of the trays and put them in a zip-top bag and store them in the freezer. We blow through our frozen herbs in the winter.