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Friday's Rookie Topic VIII: French Tarragon

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Post  pattipan on 6/3/2011, 2:30 am

French Tarragon

With all the fresh vegetables coming in from your SFG, herbs can be a tasteful addition when bringing them to the table. So this week we're going to take a look at one of my favorite herbs, French Tarragon.

Friday's Rookie Topic VIII:  French Tarragon Tarrag10

Tarragon is considered by the French to be the "King of Herbs." It is one of the five herbs in the classic French combination called "fines herbes," which you may have seen at you local grocery or in your cookbooks. There are two main types of tarragon grown as culinary herbs, French Tarragon and Russian Tarragon. The latter is less popular and said to be less flavorful, so most tarragon you'll find at your local greenhouse is the French variety. The remainder of this article will cover French Tarragon.

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) is a perennial herb grown for its aromatic leaves. It's most popular in creamy sauces, dressings, vinegars and salads. It belongs to the plant family Asteraceae (the aster family) and originates from Central Asia, most thought to be Siberia. The name Tarragon is a corruption of the French Esdragon - now Estragon, derived from the Latin Dracunculus (a little dragon) a name which was given to the plant due to its root system which coils like a dragon. (1)

FLAVOR: French tarragon is said to have a flavor similar to licorice or anise. However, since I am not fond of either of those flavors, I have my own description for this herb, "minty dill." Honestly, the flavor of tarragon can speak for itself without any comparisons! Try growing some and tell me what your taste buds are telling you.

GROWING: French tarragon can only be propagated by root divisions or stem cuttings. It is best to purchase the plants from your local greenhouse (or ask a friend who is already growing it for some stem cuttings). Tarragon seed is sterile, so if you purchased seed it is not true French Tarragon.

Purchased plants or divisions will work well in your SFG with one per square (or two if they are really small). Full sun (or partial shade if your climate is hot). Stem cuttings can be started directly in moist soil, allowing about 4 weeks for the stems to root. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated. If you are concerned about the roots spreading underground in you SFG, tarragon will do just fine in containers filled with Mel's Mix -- I have both! Main growth will be in your summer months and it will began to fade when the nights get cool in the fall. Don't worry, it's a perennial you will see it again next spring! We have sub-zero temps here in WV and the tarragon in pots comes back every year.

Friday's Rookie Topic VIII:  French Tarragon Tarrag11

HARVESTING & USE: Tarragon leaves can be picked any time. If cutting stems, leave at least a third of the stem for regrowth. Tarragon pairs well with chicken, fish and eggs. Use it to flavor creamy sauces or make flavored butters. Chop leaves for use in most recipes. Stems are good for stews, pickles or flavored vinegars.

Before first frost, harvest stems to preserve. To maintain the best flavor, wrap stem cuttings individually in plastic and freeze. Tarragon does not keep its potency when dried, but it can be done. Reserve the dried version for soups.

Tarragon Tartar Sauce

Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce

And here is a canning recipe too. There are a lot of variations of this recipe, but this is the one I like. One of the easiest pickle recipes ever!
French Cornichons (Sour Gherkins)

Cornichons are small cucumbers especially suited for picking very small. Cornichons are best made in small batches as they are picked.

1 3/4 cups cornichon cucumbers, each no more than 1 1/2 or 2 inches
1 Tbs pickling salt
2 small cloves garlic
2 leafy sprigs fresh tarragon,3 inches long
2 cups mild white wine vinegar
2 cups water
2 tsp sugar
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
4 black peppercorns

1. Wash and sterilize two half pint canning jars.

2. Clean cucumbers under running cold water; remove stems and blossoms, being careful not to cut the ends of the cukes. In a small glass bowl, combine cucumbers, salt and just enough water to cover; let stand overnight at cool room temperature.

3. Drain cucumbers. Place one garlic clove, a sprig of fresh tarragon and two peppercorns in each drained sterilized half-pint canning jar. Pack with cucumbers.

4. In a small stainless or enameled saucepan (not aluminum) heat the vinegar, the 2 cups of water and sugar to boiling over high heat. Remove from stove and cover cucumbers with vinegar mixture, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours to blend and develop flavors, then store in refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

Can also be processed for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. You will loose a little color, but they will keep longer. Let cool completely and store in refrigerator for ultimate crispness.

(1) http://www.food.com/bb/viewtopic.zsp?t=335319


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Post  middlemamma on 6/3/2011, 10:58 am

Awesome information, thank you pattipan!

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Post  westie42 on 6/3/2011, 11:21 am

Fabulous ! Now I wished I had waited to buy my new tarragon plants. I bought one of each to find out which one is best, lol. Your links too will be helpful even if I don't get around to studying them all till next winter while day dreaming about gardening. Have grown tarragon before but always put it in a bad spot and later dug it out partly because it did not get high usage but always seemed to be in the way. Now I can get proper training and make it a success and I really do love our Friday lessons.

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Post  FarmerValerie on 6/3/2011, 11:47 am

Great topic and post. I grew some 2 years ago, but it did not do well, I may try again in a year or two, but I'm just not that crazy about the smell and taste, to me it smells like black licorice and I never aquired the taste for it. Again, great post.

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Post  Marc Iverson on 10/21/2014, 12:42 am

This herb was not easy for me to find, since it can't be grown from seed and is one of the less common herbs to be found in American cooking, so nurseries tend not to have it. I finally got one a month ago and look forward to keeping it going every year.

The only times I can recall having it was in French onion soup and I think as a dusting of leaves on fish. The plant is only barely starting to outgrow its four-inch pot, so I won't be plucking a lot of it, but will probably try to work into into my cooking as soon as I can get much of it to work with.

The post starting the thread implies that the plant is invasive, which is something I'll have to watch out for I guess. I put its pot right on top of some soil that I do sometimes plant in.

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Post  sanderson on 10/21/2014, 12:58 pm

I have a packet of Tarragon seeds but it doesn't indicate a variety.  I started them inside in Jan-Feb and they are still growing outdoors in designated herb pots.  However, they do not look like the lush picture on the seed packet.  Embarassed  Fish is about the only use I can think of, besides a quick snack for the cat as she strolls the back yard.

"Tarragon seed is sterile, so if you purchased seed it is not true French Tarragon." Interesting. I wonder what I am really growing.


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Post  Marc Iverson on 10/21/2014, 1:17 pm

Russian tarragon.
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