In terms of ease, making bouquet garni bags filled with dried herbs and seasonings is right up there with the simplicity of forcing bulbs for gifts, which we featured last week.
Classic bouquet garni are little bundles of dried herbs tied with kitchen twine that are tossed into the cooking liquid to impart the flavor of the herbs and seasonings into whatever you’re making: stock, broth, stews or soups. When you think the bag has been in long enough – hours, by my book – then you simply remove it and throw it away.
The thing I don’t like about the traditional bouquet garni bundles is eventually all those little sticks and dried leaves and stems will break away from the bundle and will end up in the liquid. That’s fine if you’re making a stock that contains rough-cut onions
(keep the skins on to help clarify the broth), chunks of carrots, meat bones, peppercorns and a whole head of garlic (again, with the skin), halved to expose the flesh. In that case, you’ll simmer everything and eventually strain the broth, and toss the spent bones, veggies and herbs, so a bouquet garni would be unnecessary, since you can just toss in the dried herbs and let them to their thing.
In French, bouquet garni translates to “garnished bouquet” – and although there are myriad combinations to make bouquet garni, most authentic French recipes call for a holy trinity foundation of bay leaf, parsley and thyme.
My grandchildren understand the concept of steeping tea (Sleepytime, with milk and honey), so they quickly embraced the idea of making savory bouquet garni as gifts for the grown-ups in their lives who cook.
I ordered small cotton drawstring bags online, which I washed without soap first. Yes, we could have just made the bouquet garni from squares of cheesecloth, and then tied them up in a pouch with cooking twine, but the little bags were so much easier for kids to handle. (OK, it was easier for Noni, too. Here’s the beauty of working with kids. You can blame lazy decisions on them.)
The first step is to gather your dried – not powdered – herbs. I used parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, dehydrated chives, garlic and onion flakes, whole peppercorns, a scant amount of flaked sea salt and and fennel seed; lots of fennel seed (because I love fennel). For years I’ve bought bargain dried herbs from my favorite Grocery Outlet store (and I cannot WAIT until it opens up a second Redding store near me in the former Tops Market location), but you can find them in large quantities at restaurant supply stores (like the place that used to be called Cash and Carry … now Smart Food something).
The kids each had their own little measuring cups (about 1/4 cup) and carefully poured the herbs from the containers into the purple bowl.
They really didn’t have to be that careful, because it was an inexact project. Plus, there’s really no right or wrong (except salt and peppercorns … use those sparingly). They put two whole bay leaves inside every bag, then used large soup spoons to fill the bags.
Part of the process involved opening every container of herbs, identifying each one, and smelling it. With the exception of salt, their response to sniffing every herb was “ICK!”. The only ingredient they wanted to taste was the sea salt flakes (probably because it looks like rock candy), something they both immediately regretted.
Once the medley of dried herbs and seasonings was complete, the kids took turns stirring the mixture, so the flavors would be evenly distributed. They recited what I’ve taught them about stirring: The best way to avoid accidentally flipping out the contents while stirring is to make sure the spoon stays in contact with the bottom of the bowl, like a little spoon ice skater who must keep those skates on the ground at all times.
Then the only thing left was to pull the drawstrings tight. By the end of the project the 5-year-old had filled 20 bags, while her 8-year-old brother had filled 10. I think my granddaughter could one day put herself through college working an assembly line.
Now, the only thing left was to package up the little bouquet garni in small boxes, and we’ll include instructions with each box.
Our last kid project is the messiest one of all: peanut butter and birdseed covered pine cones to keep the birds fed through winter. The kids love making these, and the recipients love them, too. The pine cones hang from string from tree branches in a place where the kids can watch the bird diners.
But before the birdseed and peanut butter bird feeders, I’ll devote a column to unique wrapping options.
In the meantime, my house smells like a savory meatloaf. Which reminds me, I may have to grab a couple of those bags for Noni, too. I think I’ll take them from my granddaughter’s stash. Shhhh.