I just got back from the 2012 HSA (Herb Society of America) Educational Conference. This year it was in Austin, Texas. I was excited to taste the food with herbs AND the food in vegan-friendly Austin.
Here is a quick report on what happened during my time there.
I took a pre-conference tour to Festival Hill, a fabulous learning and performance center about 1-1/2 hours outside of Austin. The performance hall was absolutely gorgeous, full of intricate woodwork panels. Even the chairs were music themed, with red fabric that had gold music symbols on it.
After touring beautiful gardens, including a pharmacy garden, we ate a bountiful lunch. Some of the memorable dishes we had were a delicately spiced applesauce that was like a subtle, elegant dessert; Persian Lime Cream and Lime-Basil Cookies, and a Creamy Dill Salad Dressing.
Recipes for the Persian Lime Cream and the cookies are in Growing Southern Herbs, the cookbook and herb growing masterpiece by the late Madalene Hill, and her daughter, Gwen Barclay, who is still the chef there.
Then we stopped at the Antique Rose Emporium, where we saw numerous varieties of climbing, bush, and sprawling roses.
The interesting takeaway for me was that adaptable, easy-to-grow rose varieties are plentiful. And that our idea of what a rose is has been warped by the commercial industry, which has bred out hardiness, adaptability, and fragrance in exchange for an upright head, the perfect bud, and long-lasting, cutting flowers for the floral industry.
I might just have to give rose-growing a try, after all of that…
The conference itself was a potpourri of sessions, everything about growing olive trees, to the “secret lives” of herbs (presented by mystery author Susan Wittig Albert, who has an entire series that uses herbs in them!), to the history of the rose. Since the Herb of the Year was the rose, several of the sessions featured them.
We had delicious meals featuring herbs, got to sample chutneys and wild weeds, and even got some free herb plants and seeds. Unfortunately, agricultural restrictions meant I couldn’t bring the plants home.
The post-conference tour I was on visited the gardens of two Austin residents, one of whom was the warm and vivacious Lucinda Hutson. Her charming purple cottage and the garden “rooms” outside were a wonder to behold. And we got to sample beverages that were beautifully presented, with purple and yellow pansies and slices of lemons, limes, and oranges floating in glass pitchers. Lucinda is the author of The Herb Garden Cookbook, which is full of gorgeous photographs and party food and drink recipes.
We also visited the American Botanical Council and saw the herb gardens there. The front gardens featured medicinal herbs, separated into body systems, such as those used for immunity or for reproductive and women’s health. They are also growing traditional Chinese medical herbs so that Chinese doctors will have a source for fresh herbs grown organically and locally.
I met some lovely people, and the cool part was that we were all excited about herbs, how to grow them, and especially, how to eat them!
The conference for 2013 is scheduled for St. Louis, Missouri in early June next year, and the Herb of the Year is elder, the stuff used in elderberry wine and cough syrups.
I can highly recommend attending a conference if you are at all interested in herbs. I certainly plan to go to more of them in the future.
I’m going to be trying to duplicate some of the food we had, developing vegan recipes of those dishes, so watch for those in upcoming posts.
And I met a lovely woman whose grandson is a vegetarian, and she’s a bit at a loss as to what to cook for him. So I’ll be doing some introduction to vegan and vegetarian food ideas-types of post, too. Until then, go sniff some herbs!