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Sprig of Rosemary

I don’t know just when I fell in love with the herb rosemary but it was a long time ago. I do remember the occasion when we first were given a pot of rosemary. By the way, the symbolism for rosemary is remembrance. Supposedly, eaten as seasoning on meats and vegetables, it can sharpen your memory skills. I need all the help in that department that I can get!

My first introduction to rosemary may have been at Roddenbery Memorial Library in Cairo, Georgia while herding a classroom of children on a “Miss Wessie” tour. Miss Wessie, longtime librarian, knew the value of letting children experience their surroundings with eyes, ears, fingers, and nose. As we walked through the garden she instructed the children to pinch a leaf or run hands gently down a branch of this plant, that herb or bush and then smell their hand. I think that was when I first found the calming, yet invigorating scent of rosemary.

That first pot of rosemary was given us by a veterinarian friend in Gray, Georgia. We went through Gray every few months on our way to Clarkesville and often passed right by Dr. Barry Moore’s clinic. Sometimes we’d stop for a minute and Charles would run in to say hi. Dr. Moore’s wife, Sarah Jane, was also a veterinarian but she worked in Macon so we didn’t see her except occasionally at a Georgia veterinarians’ meeting. We didn’t know them very well but they were very interesting people and we missed them after they retired.

One day as we traveled north we made the sudden decision to go by Barry and Sarah Jane’s house. Charles knew it was on the back side of the property where the practice was. We found them at home enjoying retirement, both of them very pleased to see us. We had iced tea and chatted a few minutes, then stood to leave. Sarah Jane insisted we look around their yard and garden before we left. That’s when I saw a rosemary bush that was thick and beautiful. It reigned like a queen close to a walkway, its slender-leaved branches brushing against a rock. I ran my hand along one branch and took in the restorative scent. As we continued around the yard I kept looking back at that beautiful rosemary bush. Finally I worked up the nerve to ask this lady whom I knew so slightly if I might have a cutting from her rosemary bush. She laughed and said, “Oh, I can do better than that. I’ll give you a rosemary bush already rooted and potted.”

We planted that rosemary where we could see it from our garden room. It grew to be as grand as Sarah Jane’s. But after years it began to be somewhat sprangly and we cut it back severely. It never recovered. But I had rooted some branches from it so when it died we still had rosemary. When we moved from that house we took cuttings with us and started a new tub of rosemary which became as bushy and full of that tantalizing aroma as the first had been. One day while I was playing with my great grandchildren I missed my footing somehow and landed right in that tub of rosemary. The children worried I’d hurt myself but I was cushioned nicely in the fragrant branches. The problem was I didn’t know how to get up. It took a lot of effort and squeals of laughter from all of us to haul me out of there. Then I realized what I’d done. I had sat smack down in the middle of my beautiful rosemary bush and it was flattened and broken. It never quite recovered. But, again, I had rooted some branches so we planted another one which grew nicely.

Presently, our rosemary bush is less than healthy having missed a few waterings, I’m afraid. It looks a little like a chicken that’s lost most of its feathers. But not to worry. I have another cutting rooted and ready to plant. Not only do I want to keep a rosemary near the back door. I also look for opportunities to give a newly rooted rosemary away, to pass forward the generosity of Sarah Jane.

I use dried or fresh rosemary on beef and pork roasts, on baked or stewed chicken. I even made a loaf of rosemary wheat bread and I really liked it by my family didn’t seem too turned on about it. Use a teaspoon of dried rosemary in a pot of vegetable beef soup. Use the pretty little branches as a garnish on a plate of stuffed eggs or a platter of sliced ham. If you want a quick decoration for your table, stick some rosemary branches in a pitcher of water. If you replenish the water every few days the leaves will stay fresh and green for weeks. And if you keep it long enough, about a month or six weeks, you can pull those stems out and–voila!–Roots!

It’s easy to dry rosemary for future use. Harvest about a dozen little branches, tie them together with a string, leaving a loop on stem end of bunch. Hang it over any hook and enjoy the down home feeling of its scent for a couple of weeks. When it’s dry, place the bunch on a cookie sheet or a piece of wax paper and strip every one of those twigs.  You can place dried rosemary leaves in a ziplock bag and keep them for at least six months. When you use dried rosemary, rub the now brittle little leaves between your hands and turn the into tiny flavorful bits to add to your cooking.

Aside from its savory scent, its delightful flavor and its Christmasy boughs, I love the tenacity of the rosemary. If you have the misfortune to prune it to death, flatten it, starve it you can plant new rootings so you’ll always have a rosemary.  For this non-green-thumb girl it is a pleasure to be able to root anything! And maybe, as a side effect, my memory will improve also.

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