Thanksgiving isn't so much an eating holiday as it is a shopping holiday. Ask any of the farmers market vendors you frequent. But fresh green herbs are sometimes a sad afterthought on party menus. A shame really. Some thoughtful local farmers put extra care into growing beautifully lush local herbs that disgrace those sad and comparatively flavorless plants you find imprisoned in plastic pillow packs at so many grocery stores.
The cool weather we're having also brings a few new herbs to the table — sorrel, chervil, and early winter savory — some of which you won't find outside of the market stands. Newly harvested, herbs add a luxurious depth to tired tradition without upending your guests' sometimes adamant expectations of comforting flavors and smells.
Markets will be packed this week, full of erstwhile locavores looking to impress expectant visitors with California-grown produce. Because after many hours of prep and cooking, casually dropping that, “I got it at the farmers market,” may imply, however smugly, that a little more care and consideration than usual went into the mountain of food in front of you. Herbs both inside and outside your food provide an easy opening. Turn the page for a few suggestions on where to get your herbal greens, and what you should consider for the meal.
ABC Rhubarb, run by “queen of greens” Lily Baltazar, has been prepping for months, nursing along the perennial standards like Baumgarten sage — Baltazar says to fry it in butter, whole — chives, marjoram, fresh California bay leaves and French thyme. She smiled big and conspiratorially when she revealed that she's also been hording green garlic for Thanksgiving sales, and is promising to have a small amount available at her tables this week, supply willing.
“I love green garlic,” said Baltazar. “It won't be a lot, but gosh imagine a green garlic stuffing?” She'll also have a supply of fresh sorrel, one of the first harvests of the season.
Kenter Canyon Farms out of Ventura has beautiful long, columnar rosemary right now, which has us torn between plate and vase. Do both. Tuck it under turkey skin for the long roast or chop it into dust for the brine and get extra for a fragrant arrangement either strewn on the tabletop with other greenery or upright in a jar. Their French tarragon is potent and almost nutmeg-y, destined for our gravy.
Smells often draw us to one stand or another, but we'd never been lassoed by the scent of parsley before we happened by the Givens Family Farms booth at Hollywood while they were unloading one morning. Givens Family Farms' broad leafed Italian parsley is potent, a dark druidic green with a lush grassy and sweet fragrance and a hint of anise. Their stems are a standard ingredient in our homemade chicken and beef stocks, while the leaves are added to everything from the starter salad and soup to dessert. No joke. We used the Givens' parsley in parsley ice cream, which we took from David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop.