It started with Herbes de Provence, or my lack thereof.
Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbs and considered typical of the Provence region of southeast France, generally consisting of savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Sometimes, it has lavender in it. It adds a distinct, yet gently robust flavor to dishes. Is “gently robust” a flavor descriptor? That’s the only way I can think to describe it.
I was making one of my husband’s favorite meals when I discovered the empty bottle. I was neck-deep in pots and pans and the intense preparation of French deliciousness. Chicken, mushrooms, onions and a cream sauce were about to be snuggled in a flaky puff pastry when I reached for the Herbes de Provence. And my bottle was empty.
I keep my empty bottles as a reminder of what herbs and spices I need to pick up, and I hadn’t checked the herbs and spices cabinet in a while. I don’t just have a spice rack, I have a spice rack and an entire cabinet because I cook a lot and use lots of different spices.
Always ready to improvise out here in far West Texas where the grocery stores seem to close at sundown and it was already later than I normally have dinner on the table, I dug through all my disorganized herbs and spices and made do with what we had.
I had marjoram, thyme and an empty bottle of savory. Luckily, we have rosemary in our landscape so I cut some fresh. I sniffed the plastic baggie of oregano that had at one time smelled so strongly, I was constantly hungry for Italian food… and it smelled like nothing. Like dried, green nothingness. I didn’t even bother with the oregano.
The next day, I searched Fort Davis high and low for Herbes de Provence and came up empty-handed. The closest I found it was in Alpine, and for more money than I felt like spending on a little bottle of dried plant pieces that I won’t use too often since my favorite thing to use it on is fresh fish… and we don’t have much fresh fish out here.
My daughter was coming to town from Boerne and asked what she could bring from HEB. Knowing very well the enormous selection of bulk herbs and spices she had access to for pennies on the dollar, I wasted no time sending her a list because I’d just cleaned out the Johns’ Spice World and had a whole bunch of emptiness to refill.
My original plan was to shop locally, but I saw the chance to expose my grown daughter to the loveliness of buying bulk herbs and spices, rather than just going to the spice aisle for an expensive bottle of whatever she needed.
Herbs and spices aren’t meant to last forever in your pantry or cabinet. Even if they are in airtight jars rather than the little baggies from buying in bulk, they lose their potency, aroma and flavor as time passes. If you bring them home from the store in a baggie, please immediately put them in an airtight container.
I’ve been using fresh ginger in my cooking for quite a while now, so should I be surprised that the baggie of ground ginger from 2015 smelled like powdered nothingness? The new baggie of powdered ginger smelled like a hunk of fresh ginger, and was immediately transferred to an empty spice jar.
Generally, whole spices will stay fresh for about four years, ground spices for about two to three years, and dried herbs for one to three years. Do the sniff test before you use them – if they don’t have a scent, they’re probably not going to season your food how you intended. Or at all.
Now is the perfect time to clean out your herbs and spices and start fresh for the new year. You can find pretty much any herb or spice you can think of at grocery stores in Alpine, and Blue Water Foods has an excellent selection of bulk spices available.
And, when you have a nice selection of herbs and spices and you need an herb blend that’s not available or is pretty pricy, you can toss together your own in whatever quantity you want.
I made a double batch of this Rotisserie Chicken blend with my newly-stocked supply of herbs and spices. I omitted the tarragon and rosemary. It was, in the words of my darling, “The best chicken you’ve ever made.” BAM.
I just thought this pan of marinade for fajitas was so pretty before I mixed it up. Again, I had everything I needed on hand – except for pineapple juice – but I went all-citrus since that’s what I had and used freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange and lime. Again, SO GOOD.
Herbes de Provence Recipe
3 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried savory
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers (optional)
Put all ingredients in an airtight container such as a mason jar, and give it a good shake. Use on anything you think could benefit from a blast of French delightfulness… chicken, beef, fish, pork, potatoes, soups… get creative, it’s up to you!
Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche