20 July 2013

20 July - St. Margaret; Tarragon Vinegar

Weather - If St. Margaret's Day be dry, God will give us a fine autumn.

Farming and Gardening – Start harvesting on St. Margaret’s Day.


“At Antioch, Saint Margaret, virgin and martyr” of which you can read more here.

                     To St. Margaret

"Hail, Saint! Whose form the pencil yet portrays,
Calling our minds to hallowed times of old,
When pastors grave, to guard their wandering fold,
From prowling Wolf that on meek virtue preys,
Gathered their flocks on holy ground to graze,
By fountains pure, where sacred waters rolled.
And when at eve the vespers bell had tolled,
Around their hopes the pen of faith did raise,
Inspire me to exhort our faltering race;
To strive with him thou, martyred virgin, trod.
Then cheer thou with thy form and tranquil face,
Christ’s sheep awaiting his directing nod,
Who whylome [formerly] held on earth the heavenly mace,
And brought them back to their appeased God."

(This sonnet was published in 1820, and it is said that the unnamed author wrote it upon viewing Raphael’s picture of Saint Margaret.)


And Poppies a sanguine mantle spread,
For the blood of the Dragon St. Margaret shed.

On St. Margaret’s day, Dragon’s Breath Chili would be appropriate.   It has 26 different ingredients, not counting the French-fry base, or the cracker-green onion-cheddar garnish, so it might be a bit much.  Make your own favorite chili, and if it is on the mild side, call it “Dragon’s-Breath-After-A-Breath-Mint Chili.”

“The Every-Day Book” (1838) dedicates Virginian Dragon’s Head (Dracocephalus Virginianum) to Saint Margaret.  Any of the Dragon’s Head family, like the one pictured here, would be a pretty addition to your Mary Garden.  In my garden, I have the “little dragon”,  Artemisia Dracunculus, aka Tarragon (don’t be fooled by the little dragon name. It is a very strong herb, and a little goes a long way).  Nearby is a patch of Daisies (Daisy being a nickname of Margaret).

Tarragon is a perennial plant, and once established grows forever (or close enough).  I use this everywhere – sprinkled on roast chicken (before it goes into the oven), on baked fish (after it comes out of the oven), in mayonnaise, and just a touch on salads.  It is so good.

One of the things I make from my herbal harvest is TARRAGON VINEGAR, used especially in the recipe for Green Goddess Dressing.  Anchovies and Tarragon!  Heavenly days!

You will need approximately 2 cups (1 pint) of tarragon leaves.  If you need to wash them, do so very gently in a basin of cool water.  Pat dry, and then air dry thoroughly.

Cut 1 clove of garlic in half.  Heat 2 to 3 cups of white wine vinegar to just below boiling.

Crush the tarragon leaves lightly between your hands to release the oils and put them in a bowl (use a bowl that you won’t need for a while).  Add the heated vinegar, the garlic, and two whole cloves.  Cover the bowl and allow it to stand for 24 hours.  Take out the garlic, put the cover back on, and let it stand for 14 days.  Yep, two weeks.

When time is up, strain the mixture until all the herbal residue is gone and the vinegar is clear.  I use paper filters, but cheesecloth also works.  Put a sprig (or several) of tarragon in the sterilized vinegar bottle and pour in the strained vinegar.  Cork it tightly.

Another recipe says to pack the leaves into a quart jar, and pour unheated vinegar over them to within 1” from the top.  Use a wooden spoon to bruise the leaves and release the oils.  Cover the opening with plastic wrap, then screw on the jar lid.  Label it if you need to; store it in a cool, dark place for 4 to 6 weeks.   Proceed as above to strain and bottle the resultant nectar.

This works with other herbs as well.


Raphael, c1518.  Saint Margaret of Antioch. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.  Swiped from Wikipedia.  I don’t know if this is the Raphael St. Margaret that inspired the poem, but I prefer it to the one in the Louvre.

Dracocephalum ruyschiana, swiped from Wikipedia.

"Death of Saint Margaret" from Pictorial Lives of the Saints by John Gilmary Shea (1889)

“Saint Margaret”, woodcut, c.1489, from The Golden Legend.