Thursday, February 5, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate: Why You Really Need Winter Savory

Old codger saying "How do I get me some of that dadgum winter savory?"

Diane “Princess Di” Winslow, the Martha Stewart of Manchaca, is getting a little fed up. For decades she has lovingly cultivated winter savory plants to pass on to her nursery customers throughout the area, but for some reason, the buying public has foolishly decided to hate on the plant. If those same ignorant folks could have tasted Di’s Superbowl beans, they would all have been waiting in line at the It’s About Thyme gate Monday morning, for pots of the herb.

Winter savory, AKA mountain savory, or white thyme (Satureja montana) is a xeric, perennial herb that is easily cultivated in Central Texas. Growing a foot tall on an evergreen mounding plant, it blooms summer to late summer with spikes of white to lilac flowers, with purple spots on the bottom lip, preferring a haircut after it blooms. It requires full sun and needs excellent drainage, doing better in stony soil than rich beds. Winter savory is first cousin to summer savory and has a stronger flavor than its wimpy brethren (summer savory really hates growing in Central Texas heat), with a higher concentration of thymol and carvacol. The plant originated in Western and Central Asia, and is considered native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Winter savory in bloom, from

Instant relief from bee stings! (pic from

The genus Satureja was named by the Roman writer Pliny, and some folks feel it is derived from the word “satyr”, the half-man, half-goat Dionysiac woodland sprites in Roman mythology who chased maenids and bacchans. There is a common etymological origin with the Turkish word sater, the Hebrew zaʾatar, and the Arabic az-za'tar, terms used today in the Eastern Mediterranean to describe different aromatic herbs or an herbal spice mix. The Romans used this herb for cooking and introduced it to Northern Europe during Caesar.

The beans so good I ate three portions at Superbowl...

The glossy foliage is intensely aromatic, contributing an herbal, sharp, peppery flavor to dishes when added at the last minute, and mellowing-out the longer it is cooked. Historically it was used as a substitute for black pepper, and Hispanics use it when epazote can’t be found. It is the ideal herb to add to a pot of beans (in German it is called bohnenkraut, which means “bean’s herb”), and it works well with meaty stews, or seafood breading. It pairs particularly well with any type of mushroom, in white sauces and vinaigrettes, and in potato salads. Medicinally, it is said to be a remedy for colic and a cure for flatulence, and has been used to treat gastro-enteritis, cystitis, nausea, diarrhea, bronchial congestion, sore throat and menstrual disorders. It should not be used in medicinal doses by pregnant women. Incredibly, a sprig of the plant, rubbed onto bee or wasp stings after the stinger is removed, brings instant relief. In the garden, it is the perfect companion plant for beans (repels bean weevils), and roses (reduces mildew and aphids).

Princess Di’s Great Northern Beans

 Serves 6 to 8

1 pound of apple smoked bacon, ¼ inch dice
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon chopped winter savory leaves
1 pound Great Northern Beans, soaked overnight, rinsed, drained
10 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat a large, thick bean pot over medium heat and the bacon, stir-frying until lightly browned and much of the fat has rendered, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and sauté with the bacon until just beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, bay, and savory and sauté 30 seconds. Add the beans and chicken stock, raise the heat to high, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low, simmering the beans and stirring occasionally until the desired degree of tenderness, about 2 ½ to 3 hours.


To prepare the beans for cooking, pick through for debris and stones, and soak in water overnight in the refrigerator. There should be twice as much water as beans, since they will increase in volume. Alternatively, place dried beans in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off, let the beans stand for one hour, and drain. You may substitute chunks of ham, hog jowl, or salt pork instead of the bacon. If you use salt pork, soak 10 minutes in hot water and drain before using. For leftover beans, partially mash and use for bean “tacos” inside lettuce leaf wrappers, or add some egg and bread crumbs, form into cakes, dust in rice flour, and sauté until golden brown (excellent topped with cheese and a fried egg). 

Mick Vann ©

Get your winter savory at It's About Thyme Nursery, from Princess Di her ownself!

CBoy and Princess Di....outstanding in their field, and thinking about the coming winter savory crop


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