Ted's aunt Trixie, who lived to be just a few months shy of 100, had in her garden a plant that everyone called "The Old Man."
I assumed it had something to do with its age -- not as old as Trixie, but it had been there for at least 25 years. Turns out that "Old Man" is one of the common nicknames for Southernwood, which is a variety of artemisia. Wormwood, dubbed "Old Woman", is another.
Tarragon is an artemisia, too. Native to Siberia and Western Asia, tarragon was brought to Europe by the Arabs who conquered parts of Spain in the 8th Century AD.
The best tarragon for culinary uses is French tarragon (or, as it's called in Germany, German tarragon). When you buy a plant for your garden, be sure the tag specifies which variety it is, or you'll end up with an impostor like I did -- most probably a Russian tarragon, which has a much taller growing habit and much, much less flavor and aroma. The flavor of my garden tarragon is so disappointing that I'm actually using dried tarragon until I replace my impostor with a real French tarragon next spring.
The leaves taste of anise or licorice, with a sweet undertone. It's quite aromatic -- a bit strong, even -- but after long cooking, the aroma mellows. When you buy fresh tarragon, keep the sprigs in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To dry, hang the stems upside down in a dark place (in the basement or barn), where air can circulate around them.
Cheesy tarragon omeletta
Lately I've been making these egg concoctions that are quasi-omelet, quasi-frittata. It's just eggs, cheese, and random herbs from the garden, perfect for dinner with our "house" salad: greens, tomato, nectarine, cucumber, and black olives, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Serves 4.
10 large eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup shredded cheese (gruyere, cheddar, fontina, or your favorite mix)
3 Tbsp minced fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, thyme, basil, or a mix) OR 4 tsp dried herbs
Large pinch of sea salt
Large pinch of fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
In a large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, herbs, salt and pepper, and beat lightly with a whisk to combine. Heat a large frying pan over lowest heat; add the oil, then pour in the egg mixture. Cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Lift the lid, and with a spatula lift the edges of the omeletta and let some of the uncooked egg from the top run underneath. Replace the lid and continue cooking over low heat for another 3 minutes. Again, lift the edges and let the uncooked egg on top run underneath. Cover, and continue cooking until the egg is set, another 5 minutes or more. If you prefer to have the top browned, either flip the omeletta and cook for 1 minute, or place under the broiler until the top is lightly browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.
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