In the culinary world, fruit and herb or spice pairings are both a science and an art: strawberries with sage, peaches with rosemary, pears with vanilla, and the ubiquitous citrus with just about anything! Unfortunately there are some fruits and plants we simply cannot grow on The Farm at Walker-Jones – vanilla is a tropical orchid from Madagascar, and can only grow in USDA Zone 10 or higher (we are Zone 7); growing peaches and pears in humid East Coast climates can be problematic with regard to insect pests; and citrus like oranges, lemons, limes, although possible to grow indoors, are also unable to survive the first cold weather in DC preferring sunnier climes like Florida and California… however all is not lost!
Among the diverse selection of plants grown in our Herb Garden, we have collected a number of tropical spice alternatives and various fruit/herb combinations. A staple ingredient in Polish vodka, Vanilla Grass (Anthoxanthum nitens) contains the chemical compound coumarin which imparts a vanilla flavor to salads and refreshing drinks; coumarin is also found in Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum) and is used extensively in Germany to flavor everything from icecream to sausages. An alternative to allspice and long used by Native Americans, we feature a shrub native to the mid-Atlantic, Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which produces red berries (drupes) which ripen during apple season and which can be used to flavor traditional fall pies and pastries.
From the largest genus in the mint family we have Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) with pineapple-scented leaves (and beautiful tubular red flowers loved by our native butterflies and the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds), and two salvias (Salvia microphylla) with Wild Watermelon or Maraschino Cherry scented leaves. Among the lemon/lime-scented herbs, we have both Lemon and Lime Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lemon Basil, Lemon Thyme, and the delicious Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora), and a new mint, Lime Mint. Some new mints also include Orange Mint and Grapefruit Mint, and in our growing room on the farm, waiting for planting next Spring, we have cuttings of a rare mint from France, Banana Mint, which tastes and smells like a combination of mint and ripe bananas! Our citrus herb collection is rounded out with a tangerine-scented Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) ~ take that, Florida!
Pink Grapefruit-Mint-Tarragon Granita
This alternative to sorbet (so you don’t need an ice cream maker) can be a delicious dessert on its own or a palate cleanser between rich and strongly-flavored entrées and a cheese course.
1 tablespoon freshly grated grapefruit zest
3 ¾ cups pink grapefruit juice (not from concentrate, approx. 4 large fresh grapefruits)
6 tablespoons clover honey (or more to taste)
2 6-inch sprigs fresh French or Mexican tarragon, plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
4 6-inch sprigs fresh Grapefruit mint, plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
Place a quart-size (or larger) storage container for the granita in the freezer to prechill.
Place grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice, and honey in a large saucepan and stir thoroughly. Bring just to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the honey dissolves. Taste and add more honey, if desired. Stir in tarragon and grapefruit mint sprigs
Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse the mixture, about 1 hour.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a large, shallow container, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in chopped tarragon and mint. Cover and place on a level surface in the freezer for at least 5 hours, stirring with a fork every 30 minutes, moving the frozen edges toward the slushy center and breaking up any icy crystals. To serve, let the granita stand for about 5 minutes at room temperature to soften slightly, then break up and fluff it with a fork.
Contributed by David Hilmy, lead teacher for the farm.