This herb is possibly the opposite of basil. It looks delicate and fragile – it’s silk to parsley’s denim – but it isn’t. It will stand frost and snow. It doesn’t like sun, and it doesn’t mind a bit of shade and damp. It shows very early in the spring, flowers in May, sets seed, and wilts and fades through the summer. then the seed germinates as soon as the autumn rains come, and there you have it, flourishing between the leeks and cabbages, and popping up all over the garden. Once you’ve got chervil, you’ll always have chervil.
It’s a good herb for the kind of weather we had last week – not warm, exactly, but less chilly than before, and dry with sunlight that has a bit of go about it. The snowdrops are expanding, the first crocus is just about peeping through the leaves, you find yourself walking about the garden noticing plants putting out their first growth. It’s not that we’re fooled. We know we could have frost hail and snow for months yet. And yet —. I find myself thinking about re-potting things, and seeds, and longing for salads, and summery tastes. And here is the chervil.
I should probably mention its evil twin, fool’s parsley, which is genuinely poisonous, and grows wild in hedgerows and ditches. Although it looks very similar, it hasn’t the distinctive smell of chervil, but it’s safest to start your own from reliable seed, and only pick from your own sources. It has a quiet gentle taste, good with eggs and potatoes and chicken. In a few weeks I’ll be able to chop it with parsley chives and tarragon to make a classic fines herbes, but for now it will just give me the freshness I’m looking for – a first hint of spring.