Help! A family feud has erupted about whether or not lavender is one of the flavors in Herbes de Provence. I think it makes everything taste like hand soap, but my wife insists it is authentic. Which of us is right?
I have checked most of my references on authentic french cooking, including Larousse Gastronomique, Julia Child, and a number of others, and can find no explicit reference to Herbes de Provence as a specific mixture. My guess is that this is because, until recently, herbes de provence was not a specific thing, but rather just meant quite literally "herbs like they use in the region of Provence in France."
The online version of Larousse does not give a specific definition either, but in their recipe for Côtelettes d’agneau grillées aux herbes (Grilled lamb chops with herbs) they do call for "1 cuill. à soupe d’herbes de Provence (thym, origan, romarin)" or "1 tbsp of Herbes de Provence (thyme, oregano, rosemary)."
The other source that I have is the herb grinder I got the last time my wife and I were in Provence. It lists the ingredients as "Romarin, Basilic, Thym, Marjolaine, Sariette" or "Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, Marjoram, Savory." Lavender is not included, and appears to be an affectation for the North American market where it can be found in many supermarket spice blends.
To make your own mixture at home, combine equal parts of dried thyme, marjoram and savory, basil and/or oregano, plus half as much dried rosemary, or more to taste. I don't use lavender for exactly the same reason. I find it imparts a soapy flavor to foods, and the few times I have tasted it, I found it to be unpleasant.
Sorry I'm not really settling the feud, but I do have a suggestion. Use the blend suggested above, without lavender, for cooking. At the dinner table, place a small container of dried lavender or Herbes de Provence containing lavender that people can sprinkle or shake onto their individual serving to their own taste. Crisis averted.