When was the last time a stroll through the garden refreshed your spirit and awakened your soul? Did early morning dew falling gently on the roses capture your senses? Brushing up against the cinnamon basil were you soothed by the spicy essence of cinnamon filling the air? Or did the mild, anise-like flavor of freshly snipped French tarragon inspire you to use it on a special fish dish?
Gardens have the ability to shower us with those divine moments. Nature blesses us as we take time to pause and allow silent expressions from the garden to fill our senses with joy and peace. For me, a quiet place of summer pleasure is found in the fennel bed. Grasping a small branch filled with feathery fennel leaves is an on-the-spot chewy taste experience I find very refreshing. A little “pop” of those delicate, tiny yellow blossoms makes for a grand finale!
Just a few weeks ago, a most surprising “fennel” find caught my attention. Located in the spice area of our local grocery store, a small, turban shaped jar of Fennel & Salt intrigued me. Reading the list of ingredients was like a trip to the garden; 90% Italian sea salt mixed with fennel seeds, black pepper, oregano, white pepper, laurel, grass pepper, curry, thyme, juniper, pimento and organic fennel pollen. (I especially liked the marketing description; Every jar contains an intensely aromatic blend of Italian sea salt and organic fennel pollen.)
At $16.99 a jar, I was hesitant for only a moment before adding it to my shopping cart. The Alexander Family Reunion was just days away and I had already planned for one of our evening buffet menus to include a large tray of sliced east Texas tomatoes. Little did I know until all 43 family members lined up for dinner on the second night, was that the culinary highlight of the entire gathering would be that tomato dish.
An hour before the dinner over fifteen vine ripened, heirloom east Texas tomatoes were thickly sliced, drizzled with a lovely bottle of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena then lightly sprinkled with my new discovery, the small jar of Fennel & Salt. Freshly harvested basil from my garden was cut, chiffonade-style, and strewn generously over the entire tray. It was irresistible!
During dinner that evening, and for the next few days, everyone kept commenting on how unbelievably tasty those tomatoes were. Knowing, secretly, that the enchanting powers of a special “fairy dust” had transformed the dynamic of an otherwise ordinary dish, my explanation was simple. “Yes, it was indeed a heavenly experience thanks to a highly coveted item affectionately known as… fennel pollen, “the spice of angels!” Like fennel seed, it has an anise-like licorice flavor with notes of citrus and honey that is perfect for enhancing sweet and savory dishes alike.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Video by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2011