Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Fine Old Fennel

Fine Old FennelFennel has been an established plant in my gardens wherever I am based. It is easy to grow an has a magic scent that is unforgettable.

In Ancient Greece the fennel used to be called marathon, which meant place of fennel. The stalk of the herb was used to steal fire from the Greek gods.

Fennel can be grown all year round, as it is a perennial herb. It can grow up to 150 cm high with the leaves commonly extend to 40 cm. They are very similar to dill leaves but slightly less broad. Yellow flowers are formed in season averaging around 30 on the end of each stem. The small seeds are formed with many uses as well as sowing more fennel.

Fennel is cultivated not just in its Mediterranean homeland but now worldwide. The flavour of the fennel is reminiscent of anise and star anise from Southeast Asia, although slightly milder in taste.

Fine Old FennelAll parts of the fennel are used; the bulb and seeds mainly for recipes that are now have worldwide tradition. Even the fennel pollen, the most intensely flavoured part of the herb is used.

Fennel seeds have a variety of uses from flavour salads, sausages, meatballs and even toothpaste with its distinctive taste.

The Fennel bulb is commonly used in mainland Europe as a main or side dish in salads, pastas and risottos. The dried leaves of fennel are often used in the blanching or marinating process

In terms of medicine fennel water can be mixed with sodium bicarbonate and sugar syrup is the same as 'Gripe Water,' which is used to treat wind in infants. It can also be made into syrup to treat babies with painful colic or teething. Then there is the essential oil of Fennel, Fennel tea that use to be used as a carminative It is made simply by putting some boiling water on a teaspoonful of bruised Fennel seeds.

Fennel juice in syrup form used to be given for coughs fits.

Fine Old FennelUsed in conjunction with cattle and domestic animals powdered fennel driving away fleas, they absolutely hate it. Very useful in kennels and stable compounds. Further a field in the Indian subcontinent, Fennel seeds are eaten raw some as it is said to improve eyesight.

I love fennel and as well as using it in main dishes it a great display as a garnish on many side dishes, especially soups. I tend to leave some to seeds and collect the seeds by tying plastic bags over the old flowering top. With the remaining stock I cut fresh leaves throughout the year until autumn and dry them for winter use. There isn't any need to protect them from the winter weather although I do build up the soil around the base of the herbs, just in case!

For me, life without fennel wouldn't be nearly as good.

Here is a recipe with fennel I commonly used to make when in France. It is great hot or kept and eaten cold the next day, if it lasts that long. The fennel make a wonderful quiche as you will find out if you try.

Fennel Quiche Recipe


200 g shortcrust pastry
2 sticks of celery
500 g fennel bulb
25 g plain flour
260 ml fresh full fat milk
25 g butter
80 g grated yellow cheese
salt and pepper


Roll out the pastry and line a flan tin. Then bake blind for around 20 minutes at 200°C.

Next, take out the beans and finish cooking the pastry.

Clean the vegetables and split the fennel bulb(s) and celery into manageable sizes.

Boil both the celery and fennel it becomes tender.

Fine Old FennelMake the sauce with the flour, butter and milk, adding 75% of the grated cheese and season with pepper and salt.

Put the vegetables in the pastry case then pour over the sauce, then finally sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top and brown under the grill.





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