C is for Chives
Too frequently, the chive suffers the same fate as its herby brethren, parsley and mint: to be sprinkled – a decorative flourish – on top of a meal in which it does not star. In recipe books, the chive is usually relegated to the bottom of the ingredient list, with the words ‘optional’ or ‘to garnish’ next to it. It can so easily be that ingredient that people choose to leave out because it is wasteful to buy a pack of chives just to sprinkle a chopped tablespoon of them over your meal before serving, whilst the rest go off in the fridge.
For a long while I was in this camp, unhappy spending money on a decorative herb that (despite my best intentions) I will use once and then have to remove its soggy yellowing remains from the fridge into the compost bin before the end of the week. And that’s without considering the wasteful one-use packaging chives usually come in.
It was this deplorable situation that spurred me to growing our own in the first place. If I was only going to use a little of it as a garnish once in a while, why not have it growing in our own garden? That way I could take from it only as much as I need it, exactly when I need it, and the plant gets to continue growing happily. There’s no waste, no plastic, and no air-miles, plus it looks beautiful in the garden.
The chive is part of the Allium family (it is called Allium schoenoprasum, to be precise) like its relatives the onion, shallot, garlic and the leek. Its bushy heads of purple flowers are beloved by bees, and are a wonderful addition into your garden if you wish to encourage more pollinators. It is worth mentioning as well that a lot of other insects are not so fond of chives, so they do not become easily infested: there’s no need to worry about a blackfly invasion!
Chives are delightfully easy to grow. Even the most haphazard gardener can keep them alive (I am living proof of this). Give them a good spot and an occasional watering and they are a low maintenance plant that keeps on giving. They don’t seem too picky about where they grow – borders, rockeries, pots or veg beds, they thrive in all. Apparently, they prefer chalky soil and good drainage, though are perfectly happy in our clay swamp. Each year, in early Spring, new fresh shoots start popping up around the garden path. By May, the garden is a sea of purple flower heads.
The way we use chives has changed over the years. We have always used the vibrant green leaves, which grow all year round, rendering the need to buy in the supermarket obsolete. Chopped chives work wonderfully on their own, or with only a few accompaniments, in omelettes and quiches, as well as in soups and white sauces, but one of our favourites is to make chive butter, which makes a fantastic alternative to garlic butter on steaks.
However, it is during May and June, when the purple heads are blooming brightly, that chives come into their own. Chives flower abundantly at this time of year, and the compact purple flower heads can pack quite a punch. Plucked from the head and sprinkled as a garnish over meals, the tiny flowers add a strong chive flavour, as well as adding colour, originality, and beauty. Each year, I look forward to when I can start picking and adding them to our meals: they are particularly beautiful garnishing lunchtime pasta dishes or tomato salads, eaten outside on the patio.
Chives may struggle to be the star of the dish, but no other herb is quite as reliable, as beautiful, as beneficial to the garden, or as indicative of early Summer, so I feel they deserve to be celebrated as much as their more glamorous, exotic relatives. Long live the chive!