May is chive season in Connecticut gardens. The multi-purpose herb blooms in showy globe-shaped flower heads in shades of lavender that gently stand atop long slender leaf shoots. I have chives planted in multiple locations, some in perennial beds and others along a garden fence line. In other gardens I’ve observed chives planted in herb beds, living year after year in a basic wooden planter, and as a border along a perennial bed. All striking ways to show off the herb’s form and keep it close at hand for kitchen use. In a former … and formal … circle herb-style garden I created long ago, chives bordered the outermost edge of one of four equally-sized quadrants. Classic orange poppies grew in the middle of the quadrant. One year the two bloomed simultaneously and the effect was stunning (Sorry, no photos … before the digital age).
In my current gardens, chives bloom in three shades – a pale lavender, a darker lavender that photos don’t due justice to but trust me the flowers are definitely a darker color, and a pinkish lavender shown in the upper right photo. I cannot explain the slight color varieties in the pale and darker lavenders – they all originated from the same parent plant and reside in similar soils. The pinkish lavender clumps came from a different parent and may be a different variety.
My curly chives – picked up at last year’s neighborhood plant swap – are still small and have yet to show their flowers. But I love the sweeping curl of the leaves.
Making chive vinegar is an annual ritual in my kitchen. My family saves various attractive glass jars to insure I have ample vessels to use for chive vinegar … and they get to share in this bounty. In early morning as the dew begins to dry, I take a bowl to the garden and snap off chive blossoms just before they fully open. I drop the flowers into a clean glass jar, cover them with white vinegar, and set them on the kitchen counter out of direct sun. I’ve tried red wine vinegar it absorb the clear lavender hue that seeps from the chive flowers into the vinegar, so I stick with plain old ‘white’ vinegar. We all enjoy the colorful jars for a few weeks as the flowers infuse the vinegar with chive flavor . Once needed, I strain out the blossoms when I transfer the vinegar into other jars. Chive vinegar is tasty in home made salad dressings, German potato salad, and in any other recipe that calls for vinegar. Try pouring chive vinegar over chicken before baking – it keeps the meat amazingly moist.
Chive flowers have other uses. Break off the tiny florets to add to green salads or tuna and chicken salads – the color gives salads a fresh look and a great, mild, onion-like flavor. Try chive flowers in scrambled eggs to impart a light, garden-fresh flavor to breakfast. Scrambled eggs with freshly diced thyme and chive flowers was a huge hit at my house.
Chives leaves can be used traditionally – on baked potatoes – but also in just about any type of salad that cries out for a subtle oniony boost. I also add freshly sliced chives to cooked dishes begging for a subtle oniony flavor – but do so just before serving since chives quickly go limp when cooked. An easy way to slice chive leaves is to hold a bunch of the slender leaves in one hand and cut the tender shoots into useable lengths with scissors.
Garlic chives also thrive in my gardens – in fact they have become a real pest after I missed just one year of deadheading their flower stalks before they went to seed. Garlic chives have long flat leaves in contrast to the rounded leaf spikes on standard chives. In August, when other perennials look tired, garlic chives throw up beautiful white blossoms This, and their garlicky flavor are two good reasons to grow garlic chives – use them similarly to standard chives, just don’t expect garlic chive vinegar to turn any color but clear. Still … and this is very important … be extremely vigilant in not letting garlic chives go to seed. Once ripe, the tiny black seeds spread with the slightest breeze. If you let the seed head ripen , next season you will definitely find multiple volunteer garlic chives shooting up in unexpected places When established garlic chives can be thinned but they must be dug out by the small, easily missed, bulb. I have a ton of volunteer garlic chives slated for destruction. At the same time, I cannot imagine having any garden without them.
Even with all these uses, I must be missing some other ways to use chives, and there must be other chive varieties. Do you have any other uses?
Is anyone growing white chives? How do they compare flavor-, blooming-, and growth-wise with their lavender cousins?