In season: bay leaves

Bay leaves are essential in so many dishes. Their complex herbal flavor is released when steeped in liquid. They’re generally removed before serving because though perfectly edible, eating them would be like eating straw.

They’re most often used in recipes that require long, slow cooking like French onion soup, seafood gumbo, Philippine adobo, pasta fagioli and Moroccan tagines.

Rick Reyer of East Cobb has been growing bay laurel, the source of edible bay leaves, for 20 years. Starting off with a bay tree in a container, he planted his tree in the ground 15 years ago. “It was one of those plants I would bring in for the winter. Eventually, there were too many and a few had to go or be used in the landscape,” he said.

Reyer planted his bay tree in a sheltered location near his garage and the tree is now 15 feet tall and seven feet wide. “Our heat isn’t a problem for bay trees. It’s a cold winter that can be the issue. To grow it here you have to protect it from cold north winds. Mine is planted on the south side of the garage and near a rain downspout so it gets plenty of moisture,” he said.

His tree has grown so well that he began selling bay leaves through and to local farmers for their community supported agriculture boxes. Two clients have been Moore Farms and Friends and Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm. He also sells at the Marietta Square Farmers Market.

“One of my favorite clients is Leon’s Full Service. Kathryn, the bartender, developed a cocktail recipe for a Slick Ricky using a bay leaf and thyme syrup,” said Reyer.

He also cuts long branches of bay and arranges them like flowers in a vase. “When my wife gives a garden party I put a big vase by the front door and invite people to take home a branch or two,” he said. He finds that the cut branches will keep fresh for weeks.

He also sells bay leaf wreaths through

Reyer prefers to use his leaves fresh, and with a tree in the backyard, that’s easy for him to do. For others, he recommends freezing the leaves rather than drying them. And he also finds that his fresh bay leaves help deter moths and mealy bugs when stored in the pantry with grains like rice and flour.

For sale at local farmers markets

Vegetables, fruit and nuts: apple cider, apples, arugula, Asian greens, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, collards, dandelion, endive, escarole, fennel, frisee, garlic, herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, pecans, popping corn, potatoes, radicchio, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, spring onions, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash.

From local reports

Leon’s Full Service’s Slick Ricky

Hands on: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Serves: 1

Leon’s Full Service’s bartender Kathryn DiMenichi created this recipe to take advantage of Rick Reyer’s fresh bay leaves. It was on the menu for the fall. But the beverage menu changed on December 21, the Winter Solstice, and it will only be available again as an occasional featured cocktail.

Leon’s recipes for Bay-Thyme syrup and Black Pepper Tincture are top secret, so consider these a close approximation. They prepare this cocktail with Findencio Mezcal.

1/4 cup mezcal

1 1/2 tablespoons Bay-Thyme Syrup (see recipe)

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

5 drops Black Pepper Tincture (see recipe)

Lime peel, for garnish

In a shaker, combine mezcal, Bay-Thyme Syrup, lime juice and Black Pepper Tincture over ice. Shake well, and pour into a martini coupe. Garnish with lime peel.

Per serving: 165 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

Bay-Thyme Syrup

Hands on: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes plus cooling time

Makes: 2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

5 bay leaves

5 sprigs thyme

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add bay leaves and thyme and cover the pan. Allow to cool, then strain syrup into a container and refrigerate until ready to use. May be made and refrigerated up to 4 weeks in advance. If not refrigerated, syrup will keep three days.

Per 1-1/2 tablespoons: 36 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, trace sodium.

Black Pepper Tincture

Hands on: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes plus resting time

Makes: 1 cup

1 cup high proof vodka or Everclear

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Pour vodka in a small jar. Add peppercorns. Cover and let sit at room temperature for one day up to six weeks. Shake lightly every other day. When ready to serve, strain liquid and discard peppercorns. Made be made up to 6 months ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Per 1/4-teaspoon serving: 3 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, trace sodium.