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  • hbanziger

G - 83 : Herbes de Provence

Updated: Apr 24, 2023


Can’t write about La Provence without mentioning Herbes the Provence, a vital ingredient of modern cuisine. Learned about these aromatic herbs at the age of ten when pre-cooking lunch for the following day with my mom. Our family was on a budget. My parents - both had full- time jobs - always came home for lunch. It was only 10 min by bike. Their lunch break was short though. I had to prepare the meal. One of my mother’s favorites dishes were roasted potatoes - so easy to make. Soak Herbes the Provence in water, quarter the potatoes, heat the oven to 200 Celsius, drain the water from the herbs, mix them with olive oil, drip over the potatoes, salt, add butter flakes and roast for 30 minutes. Yum!


My Patatoes looked never as good as this Web Photo


For me, Herbes the Provence were a seasoning coming in a bottle. We usually bought it in Coop in Zurich. Never gave it much thought. In the late 60ties and early 70ties we were happy to get something new. The name sounded exciting, almost exotic. Later, in my student years I picked up another recipe with Herbes de Provence. Got it from a chef in a truck driver restaurant in the South of France. Coq au Vin Blanc. Chicken in a white wine sauce. You boil the chicken for 90 minutes white wine (two bottles) with a cup of Herbes de Provence. At the end, add crème fraiche and an egg. Et voila! Makes a delicious meal.



My interest increased though with my farmhouse in the Cevennes. In the corner next to the fountain was a little herb garden. Planted by the previous owner, it had four plants: A big verbena bush, a rosemary plant, a bit of thyme and sage. Ahmet, my gardener told me that I should add some Oregano and Sariette. Then I could make Herbes de Provence. Or even better, cook with fresh herbs. So we added them. Ahmed knew these stuff from his mother who never cooked with dried herbs. Also she mixed the herbs for the occasion. For roasts more Thyme and Rosemary, for stews more Oregano and Sariette.

My Herb Garden has no Labels but is not much larger than this little Beauty


Learnt only when writing this piece that Herbes de Provence were “invented” by Ducros, a large French spice company. Ducros created the blend in the late 1960s. Before, the term was generic and covered all aromatic herbs growing in the Provence. But a smart marketing genius linked Herbes de Provence to the dream of living in the south of France or a French summer holiday. Then, Julia Child, the famous American Chef who popularized French cuisine with her TV show and her books, paved the way in the Americas. Now, no BBQ can be prepared without Herbes de Provence for seasoning!

How Ahmed's Mother assembles the Herbs from her Garden - as it suits her Cooking


There is no universally accepted recipe for Herbs the Provence. To me it is a blend of Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary and Sariette. But there are people who insist that a few leaves of Basil must be part of it. Others, that bay leaves and tarragon shall not be missed. In the United States, even lavender is added. The diversity is actually beneficial for amateur chefs like me. It broadens the understanding of the aromatic herbs. When I dry them, I keep them separate and only mix them at the point of use. Makes it easy to play with the flavours.

Herbes de Provence and its Components are sold in French Farmers Markets in big Sacks


Drying is actually easy. Cut them when dry - preferably in the afternoon - and spread them on a table in the shadow. They get black when exposed to sunlight. After two or three days they are ready. Bay leaves and Basil take a bit longer and need to be treated differently. Remove the stem from the leaves before drying. Spread them widely with sufficient air. Turn them over every few hours. Then store all separately in little bags and use as you please.

Farmers Market in Uzès - could not find the Photo with the Spice & Herbs Corner


Whilst Marketing refers only to the Provence, less than 5% of the herbs grow in France. Most come from Central and Eastern Europe (Poland and Albania), the Maghreb and China. The market for spices is large. USD 7 bn by 2020 and expected to grow to USD 10 bn by the end of the decade. Herbes de Provence account for a whopping 10% of the seasoning market. Not bad for a seasoning that is only 50 years old.

French People only buy Herbs they can touch, rub and smell


Love buying fresh and dried herbs in the French Farmer markets. It is a feast for the eyes and the nose. Nobody minds if you take a leave, rub it between your palms and then smell them. It is always a terrific experience, an explosion of smell. Am sure we will have plenty of occasions to use them for cooking this summer!

Herbes de Provence, Sea Salt and Olive Oil are perfect for preparing Sea Food




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