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Tarragon adds flavor to summer

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." - James Beard (1903-1985) Tarragon is an aromatic perennial herb native to southern Russia and western Asia. Its scientific name is Artem...

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around."

- James Beard (1903-1985)

Tarragon is an aromatic perennial herb native to southern Russia and western Asia. Its scientific name is Artemesia dracunculus and it is a member of the sunflower family.

There are two kinds of tarragon - French and Russian. Always choose French tarragon. The Russian tarragon, also known as false tarragon, is flavorless. Before I knew any better, I planted Russian tarragon and it still intrudes on my garden. When buying a tarragon plant, taste a leaf. It should be lightly scented and tangy.

Tarragon is the essence of summer and of sauce béarnaise, fines herbes and white wine vinegar. Its hint of anise gives character to salads, soups, sauces, fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, pasta, cheese and egg dishes, herb butter, marinades and stuffings.


Classic French béarnaise sauce, a variant of Hollandaise, is made by reducing a mixture of vinegar, wine, tarragon and shallots. It is completed with egg yolks and butter and served with eggs, vegetables, fish and meat. A well-made béarnaise sauce is smooth, slightly tart, rich and delicious. And it takes a great deal of attention.

Fines herbes is a blend of minced fresh herbs and includes chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon and sometimes marjoram, savory or watercress. The mixture is added to cooked dishes just before serving so that no loss of flavor occurs. It can also be added into green salads.

Tarragon wants well-drained soil and does well in either full sun or partial shade. It reaches a height of 21/2 to 4 feet with thin stems and long, narrow green leaves.

Tarragon is most easily started from divisions which should be taken in early spring when new growth appears. Plants must be divided every three or four years to promote growth and flavor.

The word tarragon comes from the French word "estragon" which means "little dragon" because its roots resemble a dragon's tail.

Folklore says that tarragon appeared where the dragon walked when it was cast out of Eden. It is believed that tarragon is a cure for bites from venomous beasts and mad dogs. Tarragon is known as a protective and calming herb. It was often carried in charms or sachets to promote compassion, love, peace, nurturing and good luck.


"A Bearnaise sauce is simply an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect."


-Fernand Point, Ma gastronomie (1897-1955)

Sauce Bearnaise

1/2 cups dry white wine

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

1 tablespoons shallots, finely minced

2 black peppercorns, crushed

2 sprigs tarragon, leaves removed and minced

1 sprigs chervil or parsley, minced


3 egg yolks

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Combine the wine, vinegar, shallots, pepper and herbs in the top of a double boiler. Cook over direct heat until liquid is reduced by half. Cool and place pan over simmering water. Beating constantly, add 1 egg yolk and 1/4 cup of melted butter at a time. Keep beating and sauce will thicken. Serve immediately. Makes 11/2 cups.

Herb and lettuce salad

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup sliced button mushrooms

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup oregano, finely chopped

1/2 cup tarragon, finely chopped

1/2 cup thyme, finely chopped


1/2 cup red basil, finely chopped

1/2 cup basil, finely chopped

1/2 cup chives, finely chopped

1/2 cup dill, finely chopped

1/2 cup chervil, finely chopped

Mixed lettuces

1/2 cup grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

In a serving bowl, combine garlic and salt and mash into a thick paste with a fork. Add shallots, mustard, vinegar, and olive oil. Combine thoroughly. Add mushrooms and tomatoes and let them marinate for an hour or so. Add parsley, oregano, tarragon, thyme, red basil, basil, chives, dill, and chervil. Toss salad with mixed baby lettuces and sprinkle with cheese.


Carrot soup

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon brandy

3 cups homemade chicken stock

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Zest from orange peel

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Fresh tarragon sprigs

Yogurt or sour cream to garnish

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add carrots and onion; sauté until onion is soft. Add brandy and then broth, cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat, uncover and simmer until carrots are tender.

Working in batches, puree soup in a food processor or blender until very smooth. Return soup to pot. Stir in orange juice and chopped tarragon. Simmer 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Add yogurt or sour cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish soup with tarragon sprigs and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Resources: "The Food Lover's Companion," by Sharon Tyler Herbst; "A Modern Herbal" by Mrs. M. Grieve; www.epicurious.com/; www.gardenaction.co.uk/; www.elook.org/recipes/appetizer/4700.html; www.pbs.org/wgbh/victorygarden/recipes/; www.iexpress.net.au/~magalas/herbal10.html; www.stavacademy.co.uk/mimir/herbsarticle.htm; www.foodreference.com/html/qtarragon.html

Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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