There is nothing more welcoming in spring than a clump of fresh chives. The smallest species of the onion genus, Allium schoenoprasum, chives are a choice edible herb, and the only allium native both to the Old and New World.
The cheerful, slender green and hollow shoots of “grass” or chives start to appear once the soil in the ground has warmed. Soon, the edges of my garden are decorated with clumps of chives blossoming with bright purple and pink pompoms.
To many of us, chives are a familiar seasoning. Their mild, onion flavor adds a tasty dimension to salads, dressings and marinades, even eggs.
Cut them with shears, and store chives in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or in a pitcher of water on the windowsill. They’re delicious when added to cooked dishes like soups, but be sure to add them toward the end of the cooking time to retain their flavor.
Nutritionally speaking, chives are a good source of vitamin A, and a fair source of potassium and calcium.
Here in Maine, chives grow as a perennial, and self-seed themselves wildly. An easy plant for any gardener that reaps many rewards, chives may be started from seed. But for the novice, the best bet is to obtain a chive plant that has been dug up from another garden.
My original chive plant came to me from Aunt Paula’s herb garden in Concord, Mass., over 40 years ago. A perfect plant for the homestead garden, cheerful chives enjoy growing best in full sun. They attract bees and butterflies, and make an attractive edging for pathways. The plants die down completely in winter, reappearing the following spring.
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, have flat, rather than round leaves. In flower, the stem bears many flowered umbels of white, star-like blossoms, which have a sweet scent. Later, green knobs of seed pods form on the scape. All parts of garlic chives, like their purple cousin, have a culinary use.
The recipe for Fresh Herb Cheese Spread uses spring chives with abandon. Similar to the flavored, spreadable Gournay cheese originally from France, this preparation allows for lots of creativity from the cook.
Instead of cream cheese, try goat cheese, or a soft cow cheese from your favorite local cheesemaker. Herbs that grow later in the summer season, like dill, tarragon, chive blossoms, basil leaves and blossoms, even fennel fronds, will add a different depth of flavor. Grated lemon zest or hot pepper flakes create even different taste dimensions.
Serve this spread on crackers, toast, or part of a sandwich. I like it on fresh baby radishes and carrot sticks. Fresh Herb Cheese Spread travels well to a picnic, or will be welcome at a cookout or potluck. Garnish the plate with flowers, sprinkle with fresh chopped chives and enjoy!
Looking for a chive plant for your garden? Check out the Evergreen Garden Club Annual Plant Sale, from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at the Deer Isle Town Hall.