Thyme (Recipe: herbed cheese spread)
New England, famous for its exuberant display of Fall foliage, seldom disappoints us.
Here in the southern part of the region, the leaves are just beginning to turn, mostly to yellow, but I see an occasional bright red or orange sugar maple along the roads from my house to anywhere. Right outside the window nearest to my desk, the dogwood's leaves have a bit of a purplish tinge today.
My garden senses the change of season, too. The tomato plant should win an award for tenacity, as it continues to produce lovely little green tomatoes that hang on the vine just long enough, it seems, for the deer, or rabbits, or woodchuck to discover them.
In the herb beds, some plants linger while others have begun to fade away. Parsley: gone to seed. Sage: still lively, waiting to be called upon for Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. Rosemary: surprisingly vibrant, though not much left.
And thyme. There's always thyme, hanging on well into winter, when I dig down through the snow to grab a few sprigs for my cooking.
If I could grow just one herb in my garden, or in a pot on my windowsill, I would choose thyme. Not because it's used to treat wounds or cure hangovers. Not even because Titania, Queen of the Fairies, slept in a bed of thyme, though that does sound lovely.
Thyme is the all-purpose herb in my kitchen, used in everything from lemon thyme creme brulee to tomato and thyme jam, buckwheat cheese straws, butternut squash lasagne, lime and thyme marinated chicken and roasted strawberry and thyme sherbet.
A bushy evergreen native to the Mediterranean region, thyme's woodsy flavor also combines well with potatoes, onions, mushrooms, eggs and beef.
In my garden, I grow English thyme and a variegated lemon thyme. The lemon thyme is particularly lovely with chicken and fish, and in mayonnaise-free French potato salad.
Often I'll dry my own thyme, in a screen Ted made for me a few summers ago. When that supply runs out, I buy thyme leaf from Penzeys, in one-pound bags. I put some in a recycled jam jar that I keep on the spice rack; the rest stays fresh in the freezer, for up to six months. (Spices that get a bit older are still perfectly fine to use, but you might have to increase the quantity in your recipe just a bit to get the same zing as you would from very fresh spices.)
Herbed cheese spread
This is a good make-ahead spread for crackers, pitas or celery sticks, or a quick make-it-in-five-minutes snack for a football party. It's a lot more economical than buying the little boxes of boursin in the supermarket. Makes approximately 2-1/2 cups; can be frozen.
8 oz whipped butter
16 oz cream cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp each basil, dill weed, black pepper, thyme
Blend all ingredients together in a food processor fitted with metal blade. Transfer to a bowl or container, and let sit in the refrigerator for two hours or more before serving, to allow the flavors to combine.