Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Salad of Fennel and Peas

Fennel is an ancient herb, much recorded in historical documents. It is a hardy perennial, topped with bright golden flowers. A really beautiful plant to have in the garden, its feathery leaves add structure without appearing to take up any space. Magic.

William Coles, in Nature's Paradise (1650) affirms that -
'both the seeds, leaves and root of ourGarden Fennel are much used in drinks and broths for those that are grown fat, to abate their unwieldiness and cause them to grow more gaunt and lank.'

Culpepper says:
'One good old custom is not yet left off, viz., to boil fennel with fish, for it consumes the phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it. It benefits this way, because it is a herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel expels wind, provokes urine, and eases the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed boiled in barley water and drunk, are good for nurses, to increase their milk and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stayeth the hiccup and taketh away nausea or inclination to sickness. The seed and the roots much more help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby relieve the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice, as also the gout and cramp. The seed is of good use in medicines for shortness of breath and wheezing, by stoppings of the lungs. The roots are of most use in physic, drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour of the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body; both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink, or broth, to make people more lean that are too fat. A decoction of the leaves and root is good for serpent bites, and to neutralize vegetable poison, as mushrooms, etc.'

According to Mrs M. Grieve's A Modern Herbal it grows wild in most parts of temperate Europe, but is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, whence it spreads eastwards to India. It has followed civilization, especially where Italians have colonized, and may be found growing wild in many parts of the world upon dry soils near the sea-coast and upon river-banks. It flourishes particularly on limestone soils and is now naturalized in some parts of this country, being found from North Wales southward and eastward to Kent, being most frequent in Devon and Cornwall and on chalk cliffs near the sea. It is often found in chalky districts inland in a semi-wild state.

And that ties it in to this recipe, which is from Frances Bissell's Country Kitchen, a book she wrote after she made a television series in Cornwall in 1995. She is passionate about quality and flavour and also maintaining traditions in food culture. She recommends using fresh peas - I would too if I grew them, but I do find frozen ones to be a fine substitute.
Salad of Peas, Fennel and Mint
450g/1lb peas, fresh if possible
1 large fennel bulb

For the Dressing
2-4 sprigs of fresh mint
1/4 tspn coarse sea salt
4 tbspns walnut, hazelnut or olive oil
1 tbspn cider vinegar
1 tspn clear honey
freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, strip the leaves off the mint and put them into a mortar with the salt. Grind to a paste. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and then gradually add the liquid to the mint till you have a pale green cream.
Boil the peas - for 2 minutes if fresh, for 8-9 minutes if frozen. Drain and refresh under cold water. Put into a bowl with the dressing. Trim the fennel and slice very thinly. Add to the bowl and stir gently so that all the ingredients are well coated before serving.
A lovely spring salad.

No comments: