No one who cooks can be without bay. Even before Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson started going on about bouquet garni (a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme and a stalk of parsley tied in a little bundle), bay had long been used in English dishes, mostly as an infusion. It's unusual in that you don't eat it, as you do most other herbs (indeed, it can in some circumstances even irritate the stomach if ingested). You just borrow its flavour and its mouth-watering aroma.
If you have a good-sized tree, you can cut a branch to throw on a barbecue, which gives a superb flavour to grilled lamb. But mostly you'll be using it a leaf at a time, so a small tree in a pot may provide all you need. Bay is particularly good infused in the milk with which you are going to make a cheese sauce. I generally crush or twist the leaf first so that it releases more of its flavour.
Although bay trees look wonderful in pots, they will grow more happily in the ground. Choose a place with some protection from wind. If you have a trained tree, such as a lollipop or pyramid, clip it to shape any time this month or next. (Read more.)Share