Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Marjoram, the Herb of Grace – Recipes for Barbeques and Good Wine!

Looking out at the dark steel blue thunder clouds coming in off the horizon there is one little plant in the herb garden that shines out against them – my Golden Marjoram (Origanum vulgare 'Aureum'). It's small, bright yellow-green leaves stand out in the gloom and are soon to burst out into lavender coloured flowers. Folklore has it that if Marjoram and Wild Thyme are laid near milk in a dairy, they will prevent it being turned by thunder. I will have to try this out one day!

Marjoram is of the Oregano family and my plant belongs to the Sweet Marjoram group that have a milder, sweeter flavour than their cousins. It has a distinctive aroma and a taste of citrus and sweet pine which is a sort of cross between Thyme and the stronger flavoured Oregano. When used in cooking it's best to add the Marjoram at the end as its delicate flavour can get lost in the dish if you don't.

Marjoram is used across the Mediterranean – in France it's called Marjolaine and is used in the Herbes de Provence. There is even a Chateau de Marjolaine in Bordeaux! Shakespeare referred to it in his Sonnet 99 and called it “the Herb-of-Grace" in All´s Well that Ends Well.

It was believed that the goddess of love, Venus (Aphrodite), created the plants and gave them their wonderful sweet flavour and scent. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans would crown bridal couples with wreaths of Marjoram to symbolize love honour and happiness and this was still common practice in the UK in the Middle Ages. Indeed our modern bridal bouquets have their origins in the posies of herbs. Folklore has it that if you anointed yourself with Marjoram you would dream of your future spouse. Marjoram was called amaracum in Latin and this is thought to have come from the word for love, amor, so that might explain Marjoram’s reputation as aphrodisiac in Roman literature!

Marjoram was also used as a strewing herb on the floors to sweeten the air as it was trodden upon and in 17th century England it was an ingredient of snuff. They then decided to put it in their beer, as a preservative and to give an aromatic flavour! Over the years, Marjoram has been used as a remedy to aid digestion and Marjoram Oil is said to relieve toothache. Marjoram continues to be used as a steam inhalant to clear the sinuses and relieve laryngitis. European singers have been known to preserve their voices with Marjoram tea sweetened with honey.

I have two good recipes for Marjoram that are suitable for summer al fresco dining or a barbeque.

Pork and Marjoram Pâté

300 g pork liver
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
50 g butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small glass of port
300 g pork loin
300 g ham
250 g of single cream
large handful of fresh marjoram
slices of streaky bacon

Cut the liver, pork loin and ham into small pieces, peel and chop the onion and garlic. Brown the liver and pork loin all in the hot fat and stir, season with salt and pepper and then add the port. Cool and then liquidize with the ham. Add the cream and marjoram.

Line a tin with strips of streaky bacon and fill it with the liquidized mixture. Cover with slices of streaky bacon. Cover the tin with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours in a moderate oven in a bain-marie. Cool.

Garnish with black peppercorns and sprigs of marjoram.

Pork Chops with Marjoram

4 pork chops
4 tbsp olive oil
large handful of fresh marjoram
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the best effect you can season your olive oil with sprigs of marjoram and use this once the herb has steeped in the oil long enough to impart its flavour. Brush the pork chops with your marjoram oil and marinate for 1 hour.

Grill the chops on the barbecue. Garnish with fresh marjoram.

A good wine to pair with these recipes is Sancet (£6.84) which comes from the Côtes de Gascogne appellation. Domaines de Sancet lie in Saint-Martin-d'Armagnac on a sloping plateau facing the Pyrenean mountains. This area is very well-known for its strong culinary tradition with duck and foie gras and the production of Armagnac (the oldest brandy in France). Domaine de Sancet is owned by the mayor of the village, Alain Faget, who also makes Armagnac, Floc, liqueurs and wines under the Madirans and Pacherenc appellations.

Sancet is beautifully balanced, bright, and refreshing with lush flavours of ripe pear, melon, guava, cucumber, apple and lemon. There is a light beeswax note which adds complexity, a hint of slight sweetness and a touch of minerality on the finish. It is great with pork as well as poultry, game birds (Guinea Fowl), seafood such as Bouillabaise and Paella, Asian cuisine and strong cheeses.

Enjoy!

5 comments:

Susan said...

Such wonderful information and history. Though we grew marjoram in our garden this past year and it did well, I was never sure how to use it. Thank you for a great posting. Susan

Sue said...

Thanks Susan :-) It's good in stuffing too but it does lose its flavour quickly!

autovit said...

Oh my God this looks so good and i`m sure that it is delicious too. I think it is not a very difficult recipe so i will give it a try, thanks a lot for sharing.

Sue said...

Thanks!

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