In the last post we celebrated my mother Myrtle’s connection to Queen Victoria through love. Love also connects Myrtle to George Clooney. It’s true! He once boldly declared: “I love myrtle.”
As you will discover later in this blog, Clooney was thinking more of ingestion than matters of the heart. Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has been recognised as an important ingredient in food dishes in Mediterranean countries for hundreds of years. For example, on the Italian island of Sardinia, whose food products George Clooney has expressed an appreciation for, myrtle is used regularly in cooking and is a feature of traditional Sardinian dishes.
Tacculas is one of those dishes. Myrtle is a significant flavour in this ancient Sardinian poultry dish. To prepare tacculas, the birds (usually thrush) are plucked, washed and boiled in salted water. After the thrush are cooked, they are tied together using sprigs of myrtle, wrapped in myrtle leaves and left to cool for several hours on a bed of myrtle to absorb the intense aroma.
But generous myrtle offers up more than her leaves; her dark purple berries have a culinary use too. The Italian sausage mortadella is seasoned with myrtle berries. And despite their slightly bitter taste, in some places the berries are eaten fresh from the bush while in other places, dried myrtle berries are used as a substitute for black pepper, known as Corsican Pepper. Now I know why Mum loved pepper on her food!
An even more exotic use of myrtle berries is transforming them into a liqueur. To make this apéritif, soak the washed berries in vodka for several weeks then squeeze them to extract most of the liquid. Mix the liquid with sugar syrup or honey and store in a bottle in the fridge.
Although Mum didn’t use the herb she was named after in her cooking, I do associate her with food. To stay the hunger pangs of her growing brood, she used to bake tray after tray of patty cakes, many of which disappeared into small hands before she had transferred them from oven to table.
At other times when we wanted something sweet, we spread our bread thick with jam Mum had made with plums picked from the tree in our orchard. She also cooked big frypans full of mushrooms after taking us out on long walks into the paddocks to gather them (along with fresh blackberries). The smell of cooked meat and roast potatoes permeated the house on Sunday mornings leading up to our Sunday Roast feast: lamb from the neighbouring farm, potatoes, pumpkin and peas all harvested from our vegetable garden.
Unlike George Clooney, my mother preferred to drink tea. Had she known about it, she might have enjoyed pots of myrtle tea. This beverage is good for alleviating the symptoms of colds and flu as myrtle contains a compound similar to aspirin and an expectorant that helps to get rid of mucus. But now I’m digressing into the health benefits of myrtle – a story for another post.
Until next time... JB (aka Brigid George)