Sweet Cicely

I forgot to write about sweet cicely earlier this summer — I just found an unfinished post today. This is totally belated, since sweet cicely is at its best in spring and early summer:

Sweet cicely is a perennial herb that does fine in moist shade for us. I keep it in a shady corner of the cutting garden, where not many flowers will grow anyway. It does flower prettily, but it's the leaves that are great — they have a very sweet anise flavor. It has a history of medicinal uses, but was also commonly used in medieval England to sweeten underripe fruit and (naturally sour) rhubarb.

And that was my first use for it: as sweetener in a strawberry rhubarb crisp. These photos are from back in late June, but our everbearing strawberries are coming on strong again for their second round, and we always have lots of rhubarb, so we could just pretend I made this over the weekend, right?

The great thing about sweet cicely is that is can replace a lot (typically half) of the sugar in your recipe. I have here about 1 1/2 cups of sliced strawberries, 2 cups of chopped rhubarb, and about a cup of finely chopped sweet cicely.  

Mix together in a large bowl with just 1/4 cup of sugar. That's all you need; the sweet cicely will do the rest.

Tiegan made the topping, which is a cup of oats, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/3 cup flour stirred into 1 stick of melted butter. Then you put the fruit mixture in a square baking pan and spoon the crumbly topping over it. After baking in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, you get this:

It's a bubbly, gooey, good thing. Let it cool (at least until you can stand to put it in your mouth) and serve with some ice cream:

It's really, really good! The sweet cicely lends a tiny bit of anise flavor, but it's very subtle. Like salt used in small quantities, it functions as a flavor enhancer (of the fruit) rather than as a flavor on its own. So don't worry about your pies tasting like licorice or anything — it’s not a problem.

The only thing tricky part about sweet cicely is that you probably have to grow your own. I haven't even seen it at a farmer's market (although, to be fair, I don't spend much time at those unless I'm looking for meat or cheese). I bought our plant at the Herb Farmacy, and it's definitely worth checking out a local grower for plants or seeds — especially if you're looking for a way to enjoy all these baked goods without the guilt of all the sugar that usually goes into them. 

I used more this past weekend in a peach pie, and it was also great! Although you should probably tell people about it if you use it with light-colored fruits so they don't wonder if you put spinach in your peach pie (which I had a kid ask about, but ultimately he liked it). More on the peach pie later.


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