Summer savory - Ancienne d’Acadie
The herb of Acadie
Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) is a common herb in Atlantic Canada. The variety Ancienne d’Acadie is a Canadian variety with a multicultural history – reflecting the various people who have lived in the region. It may have originally been brought to what is now New Brunswick by French or British settlers.
The variety has been passed down from generation to generation, and traced back to Jean Prudent Robichaud (1867-1958). Robichaud received the seed from a woman from the Esgenoôpetitj First Nation at Burnt Church, NB, while he was working on Mi’kmaq farms using his draft horse. Burnt Church was a French settlement and Mi’kmaq community named for the incident in 1758 when the British burned the community’s church as part of the Acadian expulsion.
Jean Prudent Robichaud settled in Canton-des-Robichaud. His daughter-in-law began saving (and likely sharing) seeds in the 1930, and passed them onto her daughter, Anita Beattie in 1959. The variety, which is now part of the Canadian Seed Library, was introduced to Seeds of Diversity Canada by Norbert Robichaud of Bathurst, NB, and is now sold by Ferme Spirale Farm (Jocelyne Gauvin).
Culinary uses: Summer savory is a common herb in Atlantic Canada and associated with holiday food. For example, turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving is made with summer savory rather than sage. Summer savory plays a significant role in Acadian food culture. The herb is the main seasoning in fricot (rabbit or chicken stew). It is also a component of the Herbes de Provence mix.
Crop description: Compared to modern varieties of summer savory, Ancienne d’Acadie is a short, stocky plant with a strong flavour. It grows 8-12 inches in height and is more cold-resistant than modern varieties. The plant is quite beautiful with delicate small leaves and a profusion of light purple blooms, which attract bees and other pollinators.
Growing: Direct-seed in the spring after threat of frost has passed. During the season, tip-propagation can be used to acquire new plants. It can be harvested throughout the growing season or just cut in the fall.
Seedsaving: The variety must be isolated from other varieties of summer savory in order to keep the variety pure. The seeds are tiny and care must be taken while processing seeds to avoid losing the seeds with the chaff. Norbert Robichaud harvests the small seed pods in early November. He crushes and winnows these in a light breeze. He cleans the seeds by rolling the rest of the seed on a sheet of paper, and gently blowing the remaining chaff of the seed.