Garden designers relish chives. The straight tubular leaves offer a pleasing distraction from the more commonly seen flat-shaped garden foliage. To cooks, this member of the allium family is more than a pleasing distraction. It represents the linchpin in summer's seasoning repertoire. Its light onion flavor is milder than cousins onion and garlic. Uncooked, it is sweeter than cousins leeks, scallions, and shallots. Its clover-like lavender blooms stand up well in herbal bouquets and stand out in salads. And for those who are indifferent to culinary delights, organic herbalists believe that a puree of chives and water makes a fine bug spray to protect roses against black spot and Japanese beetles.
Chives, sometimes called "rush onions," are hardy perennials that grow in clumps. They are primarily grown for their hollowed tapered dark green leaves, but if the root bulbs become plump enough, they make excellent pickled onions. Chives are forgiving plants. They have few natural enemies and require only a sunny location and an occasional snip on the edge of the clump about one inch from the ground to stimulate growth. Do not cut all the spears at once as the roots will not get the nutrition they need from the leaves.
The word chives (allium schoenoprasum), is adopted from the French cive which comes from the Latin, cepa, cepae (plural) meaning onion. Chives are almost always used freshly cut and uncooked. Frozen, they become mushy and dried, they have virtually no flavor. Many gardeners have good luck bringing a clump into the house in the fall and storing it on a sunny sill for winter use. Some herbalists feel that, as with bulbs, it is helpful to first let the roots freeze for a month to give the plant a rest.
One is hard put to think of a meal that does not benefit from these subtly delectable members of the onion family. Scrambled eggs or omelets for breakfast; chives in chicken, seafood, or a roast beef salad for lunch with a buttermilk chive biscuit-if you really want to go all out. (see recipe below)- and for dinner, chill butter blended with chives, lemon juice, and dry mustard to melt over a steak or piece of grilled chicken. Potato pancakes, baked or mashed potatoes receive a lift from a few chopped spikes of green - both for flavor and color.
And if there is an abundance in the garden, chive vinegar is always a flavorful option. Cover a handful of chives with red or white vinegar and allow it to set for a week or until the flavor tickles your fancy. Strain and pour into a bottle. For the Martha Stewart touch add a fresh blade or two of chives to the jar, tighten the lid, add a pretty label, and set on the shelf for the next house warming party.
Sour Cream Biscuits with Chives
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
1/3 cup chives chopped (use a scissors for ease)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
Make a well in the center and add sour cream, oil, and, chives.
Stir until just combined - dough will be dry.
Turn mixture out onto the counter and knead lightly. Lightly roll out dough into a 10-12 inch circle.
Cut with biscuit cutter or wine glass and place on a baking sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until bottoms are lightly brown.
Yield: 9 to 10 - 2 ½ inch biscuits. Recipe adapted from SoybeanStore.com