Friday, 25 May 2012

Ten little chives

Chives are the smallest members of the edible onion family. Allium schoenoprasum is a perennial that is native to Europe, Asia and North America – and while it’s the baby of the allium family, it’s the only one that is native to both New and Old worlds.

And here’s a bit more edumacation. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes the internet fascinating – and when Wikipedia comes into its own.

What most of us would describe as the stem of a chive is technically called the scape.

A botanical term, it refers to a long internode that forms the basal part or the whole of a penduncle.


Other plants with a cape include the Taraxacum. Or the dandelion, as it is far more familiarly known. Actually, I quite like Taraxacum.

How good would it sound to sit outside on a summer's day, sipping a glass of Taraxacum and Arctium lappa?

That’s probably enough of that. Let’s stick with stem, shall we?

In France, chives are one of the fines herbes, which also include tarragon, chervil and/or parsley.

For some of us, of a certain age, The Herbs was also a short-lived (13 episodes) animated children’s series from the late 1960s, which was set in an herb garden and starred the likes of Parsley the lion, Dill the dog and Sage the owl. A spin-off series, centred on Parsley, was later produced.

Written by Michael ‘Paddington Bear’ Bond, there were also chives – 10 of them, and “because there are so many chives, all looking like each other; it makes it even hard to tell, a sister from a brother.”

Their parents were Mr and Mrs Onion and the former was their teacher, in a sort of ex-sergeant major sort of way. The missus was always crying. Well, as an onion you probably would.

My sister, who is younger, was the one who watched. Personally, I’d moved on to stronger stuff by then. Like Blue Peter. And Top Cat.

The green stems, though, are every bit as boring as the indistinguishable animated characters (with no character).

Herb and cartoon alike, they are bland.

Just look at the picture above – could they even look more uninspiring?

Well, that was my thinking. When do you use chives? Well, perhaps occasionally as a garnish for, say, a bowl of leek and potato soup. Because it looks pretty.

But you don’t do such things regularly because, frankly, you can’t ever buy just 10 chives and are never going to use the entire, big bag, which has also cost you the best part of a quid.

So while chives don’t impress me much, they had always been on my list of herbs to plant when I got around to sorting out the garden.

The first time I used any was in a herb omelette at Easter. The chives didn’t particularly stand out, but then they were with several other herbs.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing a simple dinner of white fish, new spuds and some seasonal veg or other, an idea popped into the space between my ears.

Why not try some chive butter?

It had a bit going for it, this idea. It wasn’t difficult to see that it would work with every ingredient I was going to put on the plate.

So I popped into the garden, snipped half a dozen of the stems, and then snipped them into butter that I lad left out to reach a malleable state.

Once that’s done, it’s simply a matter of rolling it up in a little foil and popping it back in the fridge to firm up.

The result was amazing. Light years from bland, this was a serious taste – and it was the perfect accompaniment for such a gentle meal.

This is the benefit of having fresh herbs, harvested when you want them. And it saves money and gives variety.

Since then, I’ve tried parsley and lemon butter, and mint butter.

The former was good – the latter less interesting than I expected. The chive butter has been done twice more already.

Chives produce pretty purple flowers but, like most herbs, you need to get rid of the flower as soon as it appears if you want to benefit from those stems.

Frankly, after this revelation, I can’t see any chive in that pot getting to the point of producing a flower.

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