I have finally pulled myself out from under the crushing tyranny of the bay leaf industrial complex by finding my own tree. Well, it’s not my tree but I can reach it from the bike trail south of town. No longer will I have to pay out as much as 40 cents for a slim bag with enough leaves for a few months’ work in the kitchen. I owe it all to a cycling friend who pointed out a laurel tree to me on one of our outings. I have ridden by this spot a million times, just past the railroad bridge on the way to Pinedo.
Bay leaf is a strange herb because I really can’t define the taste but I sure can tell when you leave it out of a dish. “Taste two plain tomato sauces side by side, one of them cooked with a bay leaf or two,” says Laurie Harrsen, McCormick’s director of consumer communications. “The difference it makes is amazing. It’s a ‘foundational’ flavor, a workhorse — not the star.” I would never think of making a tomato sauce or any type of stew without two or three laurel leaves. Just remember to discard the leaves after cooking. If you eat them you will die...or something. I've never been stupid enough to ingest them as common sense would tell you that a leaf that doesn't break down after 40 minutes in a pressure cooker isn't about to dissolve in your intestines.
The laurel is native to the Mediterranean, or was brought here from the east but you don’t seem to find it just anywhere. It always seems to have been planted for the purpose of harvesting. In one spot where I've discovered a laurel tree there is a ruined farmhouse near it. The laurel tree is an evergreen and the leaves can be harvested at any time.