Keeping the world at Bay

I’ve always loved herb gardens – the instant escape from reality brought on by the scent of crushing rosemary, basil or sage, and there’s something wonderful about being able to grab a sprig or bunch to add interest to a plain dish, or to add the finishing touches to something special. So much better than a fuel-guzzling dash to the shops for a soggy, floppy plastic-wrapped $4 packet! 

Bay leaves have always been a little on the outer edge of my plans. I have never used them enough in the kitchen, so we always end up with a dusty jar of crumbling, greying relics, which hardly demonstrate the best flavours.  I suspect I was ruined for them as a child after occasionally eating the odd stray Bay twig in an otherwise-delicious stew – it’s not an experience easily forgotten.

Nigel Slater, in the Observer has stirred some interest in me though, and it may well make it onto our planting list. I can’t say I’m too convinced on sweet uses for bay leaves, but here’s just a dash of his delicious thoughts on savoury uses:

“Where bay leaves are really worth using with a devil-may-care attitude is with potatoes and meat. I have cooked Maris Pipers, thinly sliced, with whole leaves and cream, and this week let six of them infuse in the warm milk for mashed potatoes to give a sloppy, slightly herbal puree. Steeping pork in a marinade of olive oil and bay gives a fine roast, and that delicious yet curiously unattractive Italian dish of pork that has been allowed to cook long and slow with milk is improved 10 times over with bay leaves in the clotted cooking juices.”


I’ll have to do a little research on sizes, and best locations, but I think this adds a bay tree to my “probable” list!

I’ve snipped his full mash recipe as I just HAVE to try this – it’s just after the fold.

Potatoes with milk and bay – full credit to Nigel Slater

I love buttery, cloud-like mash, but sometimes I want something softer, a little sloppy even. I use a floury-textured winter potato beaten with butter and hot milk. It produces a completely different puree to those made with waxy potatoes, one I feel is more suited to winter recipes. Stop adding the warm milk when you have the texture you like. Right now I want mine to almost slide off the plate like thick soup. Enough for 4.

6 medium- to large potatoes

5 bay leaves

200ml milk

75g butter

Peel the potatoes and boil them in deep salted water until tender. Put the bay leaves into the milk and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and set aside. The bay leaves will gently flavour the milk.

Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pan and cover with a lid and leave for five minutes.

Tip the potatoes into a food mixer and beat with the butter and a little black pepper. With the beater on slow, pour in the flavoured milk, leaving the bay leaves behind, and continue beating till soft and almost sloppy.

Check the seasoning, then serve immediately.

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