The Latin name for the bay tree is Lauraceae nobilis, Laurus means praise and nobilis, renowned; hence the phrase ‘to rest on one’s laurels’ meaning to reflect on past triumphs or achievements and not do anything new. The bay tree is also known by other names, including the laurel tree.
This tree is native to southern Europe, and is the basis for a Greek legend. Eros (Cupid) and the god Apollo were both skilled archers, and one day in a fit of pique, Eros let fly two arrows, one tipped with lead and the other with gold. The golden tipped arrow struck Apollo and the lead one hit Daphne, a nymph and daughter if the river god Peneus. Apollo, who had gone to the valley of Tempe to cleanse and purify himself after slaying the Python, the ancient evil serpent, immediately fell in love with Daphne, who, because of the effect of Eros’ arrow, loathed and feared Apollo. She fled from him and ran to the river which embodied her father. On seeing his daughter’s plight, he changed her into a bay tree. This is how the tree gets its Greek name, Daphne.
Apollo was not cured by this metamorphosis, of his love for Daphne, and on his return to civilization, to commemorate his victory over the Python, established the Pythian Games, and victors at these games were given crowns of Daphne, or laurel to wear. When the Olympic Games were established in 776BC, victors were also crowned with wreaths of laurel, as were later Roman Emperors.
We know that bay trees were also common in the temple gardens of ancient Egypt, and that Aesculpius, Apollo’s son, an a healer, believed that bay was a powerful; antiseptic, and guarded against the plague. He incurred his father’s wrath when he had the bay dedicated to him. In the 17th century Culpeper wrote that the oil of the bay leaf and berries could get rid of pimples, and’all griefs and pain proceeding from wind…’
We use it to flavour almost every European dish we cook, although we tend to omit it in Pakistani cuisine, but there is no real reason for that. It goes with just about everything and is even used as a pickling spice.
The recipe below is a useful one for a basic chicken stock which can be frozen in small or large quantities and kept till you are ready to use it. It’s healthier than a stock cube, and much tastier. Also it’s a good way of using the whole chicken after it’s been roasted.
BASIC CHICKEN STOCK
1 whole chicken carcass, skin removed
1 large whole onion stuck with 2 cloves at the top and 2 at the bottom
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
1 bunch parsley
1/8 tsp nutmeg
8 black peppercorns
3 or 4 bay leaves, torn depending on their size
2 tsps dried mixed herbs, or just dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Remove any scum that rises to the surface and do this at regular intervals when you start cooking this stock.
Cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours.
Cool and freeze for future use.
This has Taste and is a Treat, and can be used in many dishes.
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