Bay (Laurus nobilis) to make Old Bay Seasoning (WHB#23: bay laurel)

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recipe: spice rub: Old Bay Seasoning (or close to it…)

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bay tree It was 16C today and I’m getting excited about bringing the herbs back outside. Of course, it’s way too early yet. There is still a distinct possibility of frost. Not to mention that it isn’t Easter yet and as we all know, it ALWAYS snows on Easter!

But last night, it was definitely warm enough for us to grill pork chops outside. We had trouble deciding whether to use peach jam marinade or old bay seasoning. We decided on peach jam marinade and it was fabulous.

But the lure of old bay seasoning was great. We have never tried using it on anything but barbecue. However, tonight we plan to rub it on chicken legs before roasting them in the oven. It can’t be bad!

Weekend Herb Blogging: Bayweekend herb blogging - © kalyns kitchen
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), also known as sweet bay, is a wonderful herb. Apparently, California Laurel (Umbellularia californica) leaves can also be used in cooking but they are much more pungent and as far as I know, the bayberries of the California Laurel are poisonous. I gather that the berries of the Laurus nobilis are not poisonous. But frankly, I’ve never seen any recipes calling for bay berries – only the leaves….

Before we had our sweet bay tree, we used to buy crispy, vaguely greenish grey, ancient leaves from the market to use in stocks and stews. The leaves when broken were aromatic but only faintly so.

Then a few years ago, I bought a small potted bay tree from Richter’s Herbs. (As I recall, I paid $7.00 for a smallish pot containing a rather spindly bay sapling – it seemed a little steep at the time but now it has paid for itself several times over.) But the tree grew slowly but surely.

At the end of one summer a couple of years ago, the tree had grown too tall for our low ceilinged basement. With some nervousness, I lopped off about two feet from the top of the tree. We hung the cutting upside-down on the kitchen door to use leaves gradually. No need for trepidation. The tree thrived.

In the summertime, we use fresh leaves when making stock – and watch out! Fresh bay leaves are very strong tasting! They are lovely and aromatic but much much much stronger than the sad and sorry leaves one buys from the supermarket. And the shiny, dark green fresh leaves are stunningly beautiful to look at too.

In winter, stocks and stews contain the leaves from that 2 foot lopped off branch. Now, stock is all very well. But really, for us, the most important use of our dried bay leaves is for old bay seasoning. I have no idea if it is anything like commercial old bay seasoning made by McCormick. As far as I know, this mix is not available here in Toronto. But this is what we mix up in our coffee spice grinder and store in a glass jar:

Old Bay Seasoning (or close to it…)

  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tsp cardamom seed
  • 1 tsp mustard seed (optional)
  • ½ tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp Hungarian paprika
  • ¼ tsp mace (or nutmeg)
  • 1 tsp salt

And even though the tree is in dormancy over the winter, I confess that at Christmas time, I sneak down to the basement and snip off a few leaves to embed (along with a few red peppercorns) into the gelatine that goes on top of chicken liver pate. The brilliant green leaves are so lovely!

I just looked at the branch hanging on the door and there are only 3 leaves left! I hope this summer is really sunny so that the bay tree grows lushly again! We neeeeeeeed more bay leaves for drying!

Read here about growing bay laurel.

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  • sher

    Hmm, that sounds like it would taste much better than a jar of Old Bay Seasoning that’s been sitting on a grocery shelf for…….eons! We have many of both types of tree, the bay laurel and the California laurel. Both are lovely.

  • ejm

    I haven’t ever had commercial Old Bay Seasoning so can’t say for certain. But I suspect you’re right, Sher, judging from the difference in taste between commercial jars of dried bay leaves and home-dried bay leaves. Even the two year old bay leaves we have hanging in the kitchen are more aromatic than any commercial bay leaves we’ve ever bought!

  • Sasha

    My mother is addicted to Old Bay seasonings. Aside from putting it on her food, she sprinkles it on her hand and licks it. My family and I try to convince her to stop but she is an addict. I was wondering if her Old Bay consumption is harnful? If I can’t find any information i’m afraid that she will never stop.

    Ah, I love spring break!! -ejm (I think I’ll go and sprinkle some Old Bay Seasoning on my hand – sounds good, doesn’t it?)