At least I didn’t speak ill of Marjoram….

So yesterday I saw this cartoon on The New Yorker‘s Facebook page:

And it reminded me of a funny quote I read years ago in a cookbook called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter:

If bay leaf didn’t exist, would anyone miss it? I’ve never tasted anything and thought, This stew is just crying out for bay leaf. But I keep buying and using it nonetheless.

So I shared the quote.

A few laughed, but I should have checked the comments to the post before commenting, because wow, are there ever a lot of people out there who are huge fans of bay leaf. I mean, there are people in the comments insisting that they put bay leaf in everything and that it’s the most wonderful spice and nobody who writes cookbooks should be allowed to speak the least bit ill of bay leaf.

…I am a long-time chef and love bay leaves, especially in long-simmered winter-type dishes, and honestly, I have never run into a bay leaf that was flavorless and non-performing. I think this humor was written for people who are aware of kitchen spice cabinets only superficially. Maybe they run into this problem bc they never use their spices!

…I use bay leaves every time I boil potatoes. Everytime I make stock, I add it every where I put herbs.

…I use bay leaf in almost all savory soups, stews and stocks. And I pick them from my bay trees….

…It’s not about the taste. It is a known anxiety and stress revealer. The essence of it in a dish, adds love to it and a feeling of well being.
Cultures all over the world have been using bay leaves for thousands of years so there’s got to be something to it.


I think it must be a “refined foodie” thing, because I like to think I have decent taste and I love good, well-prepared food, but in all honesty, I agree completely with the quote above. Never, not once, have I made a dish and thought later, “This would have been very much improved by the addition of a bay leaf or two while cooking.” People tell me I’m wrong, but I’ve reached the tender age of 51 without being able to tell the difference from a stew with bay leaf and one without, so I’m going to continue not using it. If that means I have an inferior palate, well, I suppose I’ll have to live with my other strengths. To me, being able to taste bay leaf is like being able to claim, when sipping wine, that one tastes the hint of elderberry on the nose, delicate chocolate notes, and the lingering scent of the August honeysuckle on the finish.

The comments do amuse me, though. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, since it is the Internet and all, but it honestly didn’t occur to me to think that there are people who really think that bay leaf is a kitchen necessity. I’m not even sure if I have any bay leaf on hand right now, but I sure did discover a community that apparently thinks that Samin Nosrat’s brilliant cookbook from a couple years ago should be amended and retitled: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Bay Leaf.


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One Response to At least I didn’t speak ill of Marjoram….

  1. Roger says:

    I mean it’s not even one thing. There are about a half dozen different items called bay leaves. And even this pro-bay leaf columnist notes: “If your recipe calls for bay leaves, don’t fret if you don’t have any on hand. Just substitute a teaspoon of thyme or a teaspoon of oregano per leaf. This should take care of the herbal, floral flavor you’re missing” Oregano I have.

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