September brings the final flourish for the annual herbs in my garden. Thyme, lemon balm, chives, oregano and summer savory will overwinter, but the rest must be brought indoors before first frost or preserved in some fashion. So I have been investigating recipes that make liberal use of my annuals.
Herbs were the subject of a book by Henry Beston, “Herbs and the Earth.” Born in 1888 in Massachusetts, he wrote a natural history classic, “The Outermost House,” describing the natural cycles of a year on Cape Cod’s outermost barrier beach. Beston became a Maine writer after buying an old farmhouse in Nobleboro on a hillside overlooking Damariscotta Lake. There he started a garden of some 40 types of herbs.
“Herbs and the Earth” is a quirky book. Gardening advice mingles with biblical and classical references to herbs, herbs in mythology and medicine and his meditations on human relations to the land and to nature. So the reader learns that spike vervain (Verbena wrticifolia) was sacred to the druids, as well as the priests of Scandinavia and ancient Rome, and that the plant prefers a sunny location and is used in modern times as a remedy for colds and fevers.
Henry Beston was married to Elizabeth Coatsworth, a poet and writer of children’s and adult fiction. She wrote easily and prolifically. Beston wrote laboriously, sometimes spending all day on one sentence. Coatsworth recalled once observing him sitting in the herb garden, meditating on a sprig that he held. Hours later she noticed him sitting in the exact same posture. Then he came in for lunch, saying that he was hungry from working in the herb garden all morning.
“Northern Farm” was the other book inspired by Beston’s Maine farm. It is less about farming than a collection of essays on nature and our relationship to nature. Beston, who served in World War I as an ambulance driver and a war correspondent, believed that immersion in nature made people less violent. In several of his books, he repeatedly sounds the alarm that humans removed from the rhythms of the natural world become less human.
“Torn from earth and unaware, without the beauty and the terror, the mystery and ecstasy so rightfully his, man is a vagrant in space, desperate [from] the inhuman meaninglessness which has opened about him, and with his every step becoming less than man.”
Beston might not have approved the slapdash nature of my gardening, but I think he would have liked the following recipe, which uses all the herbs in my garden.