I promise I’m not going to go on about how British cooks in the past did use herbs and spices – and without chilli would use other ‘hot’ flavours such as mustard, horseradish and watercress, would grow, cook and eat unusual vegetables and a wondrous selection of different varieties, and used garlic in all sorts of different ways. However, I am going back to the 1944 book by Nell Heaton, Cookery To-Day and To-Morrow and look at the herbs she lists with descriptions of their flavours and uses.
Balm, basil, bay leaves, borage, broom, burnet, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, marigold, marjoram, mint, nasturtium, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, sorrel, thyme and winter savory.
She also gives different mixes for herbs:
- aromatic herbs – take ½ oz each of cloves and white peppercorns and ¼ oz each of sweet basil, grated nutmeg, powdered mace, bayleaves and marjoram, sift together and rub through a fine seive, put into a bottle and cork up.
- bouquet garni – bouquet garni is a bunch of herbs used for flavouring soups, meat dishes, etc. It usually consits of parsley, thyme, marjoram and bayleaf.
- fines herbes – fines herbes consist of chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon
- mixed herbs – mixed herbs consist of usually either (i) two parts parsley to one part each of marjoram, savory and lemon thyme; or (ii) one part of basil to two parts of marjoram, savory and lemon thyme, in equal quantities.
She finishes the chapter with garnishes and an example of thirteen different spices. I’m not sure why people thought British food was bland – except maybe in restaurants and tea-rooms when rationing was still in place!