I inherited two large clumps of Sweet cicely when I moved here in February this year. Its latin name is Myrrhis odorata and it's of European origin. This is one of the first herbs to appear in springtime, and it lasts for yonks. It has gorgeously pretty fern-like foliage and lovely white flowers that smell like seriously posh, delicate honey.
The taproot can be eaten raw or steamed and tastes of an aniseedy parsnip (hmmm)...The leaves have a sweet aniseedy flavour and they can be used as a sugar substitute. The seeds are also lovely and sweet...I'm going to be experimenting with all that later, but today I just wanted to get my head around the flavour of it, so I made custard and infused the milk with a few leaves and some flowers.
The recipe is from the fantastic Prue Leith whom I utterly revere (and not only because she owns Elizabeth David's actual kitchen table...heart flutters). Her book is indeed a cookery bible. I had got myself all geared up to be beating madly in a double-boiler but found, with a sigh of relief, this recipe for quick, easy custard which doesn't require any of that faffing:
It's really easy, just one egg yolk, whisked with one ounce of caster sugar until pale and interesting:
Then one ounce of plain flour gets beaten in vigorously. Meanwhile I'd scalded eight fluid ounces of milk with a few Sweet cicely leaves and half a flower-head:
I strained it, poured it into the egg yolks, whisking all the time, and then put the whisked mixture back into the saucepan, heating until it boiled, at which point it thickened perfectly, coating the back of the spoon (and my finger, and my tongue...etc).
It tastes divine - slightly liquoricey (but NOT in a horrid, hectic, fishermans-friend-type-way) I purposefully didn't use a vanilla pod because I wanted to taste the plant, and I'm glad, because although it's distinct, it is delicate. It's not overly sweet either. I think that's because this was just an infusion. I think this would be yummy with rhubarb, and I'd probably add a good generous handful of sweet cicely leaves into the stewing liquid, as they are renowned for their usefulness in sweetening tart fruit. You're supposed to be able to reduce the amount of sugar you use by half...good news. This little jug though, won't wait that long...it has 'drink me' written all over it.
To grow Sweet cicely, you need light, well-drained soil. It spreads itself around in a rather naughty manner if it's happy in your soil, both by self-seeding and via its very long tap-root that, if broken, will produce another plant. It wants some light shade but other than that, requires absolutely no TLC whatsoever. I'm completely in love with it and I think if I didn't have a garden, I'd want to grow one in a pot. You'd need a deep pot, because the taproot is long, and you'll need to keep it properly watered.
Do let me know if you've got any recipes - I'd love to try them out.