Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It's About Thyme

All my life, I've been crazy about thyme. It reminds me of a woman who reveals her true self slowly. From a distance, she seems small and delicate, too girly, possibly a wimp. As you get to know her, you'll appreciate her quiet strength. Thyme never overwhelms, never demands center stage. She just wants to do her best and to make your homecooking shine. In her own way, she adds depth to every recipe.

Some herbs are control freaks, loud and supremely confident, and they'll take over if you aren't careful.

But thyme is happy to be here.

 Her motto is: Life is good.

She's also tough. In olden times, thyme was used as a fumigator. Tucked into a sachet, it will repel moths. But she's best known as a culinary star--a supporting actress who delivers an award-worthy performance. 

Thyme adds subtle notes to almost any recipe. It adds a soft zing to the simplest dishes, such as Tomato Tart with a Balsamic Reduction

My Mimi used to gather thyme in her apron, then she'd throw it into biscuit-and-cornbread dressing. Thyme just knows how to wake up a dish--sweet or savory. But I have only recently felt brave enough to use thyme in a dessert.

(A side note: Instead of using table salt in a scratch cake, amp up the flavor with homemade Lemon Thyme Salt.)

"Never miss a chance to add flavor," my mother always says. Lemon Thyme Salt will add flavor to savory dishes, too. I keep a jar on the counter. (You can also make lemon-thyme sugar.)

The other day, I found myself in the kitchen with a pot of thyme and a box of Jiffy cornbread mix. I remembered that my family was (and always will be) obsessed with cornbread: we have rarely met a batch that we didn't like. Whole debates have raged about white vs yellow cornmeal. Apparently, yellow corn was considered to be lowly, fed to the livestock, unfit for the table. Sometimes the exchanges get heated--and we're talking about people who make scratch cornbread. In some food circles, storebought mixes are the stuff of nightmares, worse than refrigerated pie crust dough. Me, I'm not a purist. I keep mixes on hand for busy days. Jiffy is a yellow meal, a tad crumbly and sweet, but my Mimi swore by it. My mother prefers Martha White, which is more savory and moist. On a hectic afternoon, when my soul cries out for a slab of hot buttered cornbread, I'll grab a mix. If I'm feeling adventurous, I'll add herbs and other goodies, like bacon. 

Thyme Cornbread

1 box cornbread mix (or Jiffy, Martha White, Old Glory, etc.)
4 T chopped thyme(fresh--and finely chopped)
1 jumbo egg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a greased cast iron skillet into the oven to "hotten up." This prevents the cornbread from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan. Into a large bowl, add cornbread mix, egg, and milk. Mix. Stir in chopped herbs. Pour batter into the hot, greased skillet (or a suitable pan). Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: If your skillet is deep, you might need to double the recipe, using 2 boxes of mix. Double the recipe according to the procedure on the package.

If you have leftover cornbread, make croutons.

Cornbread Croutons
Cut the bread into cubes, toss with olive oil, and place cubes on an ungreased jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cubes are golden brown and crunchy. Remove from oven. Season with salt and pepper. Cool and store in a Zip-loc plastic bag. 

But you probably won't have leftovers if you've made thyme butter.

Herb Butter

1 tub whipped butter
finely chopped thyme, flat-leaf parsley, chives

Let butter soften, add herbs, and blend. Spoon butter into a mold or small bowl. You can even use egg cups. Refrigerate butter until ready to serve. This is fragrant and fresh, perfect for warm bread, tea sandwiches, or grilled shrimp.

Supposedly the ancient Romans used thyme to perfume their homes, and as the Empire expanded, this household tip spread to Britain and beyond. This versatile herb has been used in mouthwashes, wound care, massage therapy, and embalming. Thyme's culinary virtues are legendary: it is an essential ingredient in bouquet garni and Herbes de Provence.Over the years, I've grown several varieties in pots and gardens, including the aromatic lemon thyme. Once, memorably, I used it in a DIY landscaping project, tucked between paving stones. 
Thyme is a pro at multi-tasking.
On a more whimsical note, thyme is supposed to bolster courage and banish the doldrums. In the Middle Ages, rumor had it that thyme infusions would summon fairies. Speaking of which, the Victorians believed that wild thyme beds were the best places to spot a fairy. Tuck a few sprigs under your pillow, and you may have the sweetest dreams. At the very least, the herb will perfume your linen. 

And, just for fun, a long strand of thyme makes the perfect "J" for June.

Suggested Reading:
A Brief History of Thyme  (History Channel article)
Herbs for the Home: A Definitive Sourcebook to Growing and Using Herbs by Jekka McVicar (Viking: 1995)
A Modern Herbal: How to Grow, Cook, and Use Herbs edited by Violet Stevenson (Treasure Press: 1974)

Shared at my fave link parties:
 Feathered Nest Friday,
Amaze Me Monday
The Scoop,  

Upcoming Posts:
**6/4/15 Thursday -- Foodie Friday and Everything Else Link Party
**6/5/15 Friday Afternoon -- National Donut Day
**Herb Series: How to Make a Bouquet Garni (Herb Series #2), Rosemary (Herb Series #3), Dill (Herb Series #4), Herbes de Provence (Herb Series #5), etc.
**Novel Bakers -- Tea Party Week, starting June 15th
**Ranch Renovation Diary


  1. What a beautiful post! We love thyme and cornbread too!

  2. Of so happy you made thyme for us! Whimsical, informative, delightful and gorgeous, the perfect way to start my day!

  3. Can't wait to try the Lemon Thyme Salt and Sugar!

  4. I so enjoyed reading all about thyme! Now I'm ready to make some thyme cornbread and thyme butter. Besides infusing our foods, it also looks so pretty just hanging over the edge of a pot and as a filler. Mine always comes back...thyme after thyme!

  5. I love thyme - one of my favorite herbs! I have some growing in my herb garden. I like the idea of adding it to cornbread (I am a food purist though, so no mixes for me)...and I'm definitely going to make your lemon-thyme salt. I have a question for you though - in the salt recipe, it calls for one cup of sea salt. In the instructions, it says to grind the lemon and thyme with 3T salt. Is this an extra 3T salt, besides the one cup? Or, do you take the 3T from the one cup? Thank you!

    1. The 3 T of salt is extra--it helps in the grinding process by keeping it smooth and even. I use a small, electric coffee grinder just for herbs (it's labeled so I won't forget and use it for coffee beans). You certainly don't have to use a grinder--or the extra salt. A rough chop (thyme and lemon zest) will work, too.

  6. Oooh. I like the idea of flavored salt. Yum. Sheila

  7. Such an uplifting and beautiful post. Life is good!


  8. I make Jiffy cornbread two. I use two packages and instead of milk, I use one can of cream style corn. I planted thyme for the first time this year and I am using it more and more and more and really love it.

    1. Oh, that sounds good. I'm going to use your recipe tonight! Thanks!

  9. I'm a thyme fan as well. It's such a pretty little plant that it looks perfectly at home in my flower boxes along with calibrachoa. I find it is a great enhancer to homemade gravy. Lovely post.

  10. Oh my heavens, what a wonderful post! And Thyme...ahhh, the best!! Cornbread and thyme...awesome!

    Have a great night.

  11. Thyme to make something with fresh thyme! Thanks for this great post, ML. Everything you do is beautiful and tasty.

  12. Loved this!!!...Going to add thyme to my mini herb garden but in the mean time, I shall get it from the store as I am so anxious to try the thyme with the cornbread...and I am with the Jiffy mix!

  13. This post was so sweet, Michael :)

    I didn't realize you could use it for so many things or the lore behind it. And of course your pictures were lovely.


  14. I loved this post Michael Lee, and your descriptive passages in an ode to thyme! I never have really known what to use thyme for or given it proper respect. I can't wait to begin to experiment with this versatile herb, and get some growing in my garden~

  15. So enjoyed this Michael, we love using thyme!
    Thanks so much for sharing at AMAZE ME MONDAY!