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Flavor and fragrance for Nantucket kitchens

It's 11 a.m. and Rick Morcom is loading his pickup truck with bunches of fragrant tarragon, basil, rosemary, and thyme. He politely excuses himself and drives off, in a cloud of dust. Several local chefs are eagerly awaiting his delivery.

On Nantucket Island, 25 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, one doesn't take food supplies for granted. Fog, storms, and transportation glitches can wreak havoc with a chef's dinner plan. So island food purveyors often thrive.

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Kimerick Farm is one of them. Kim and Rick have grown culinary herbs for 12 years at their farmhouse near the center of town. They also have three children, five rabbits, four horses, two dogs, two cats, two Angora goats, a coop full of chickens, and full-time jobs away from home - she is a nurse, and he a curator for the Nantucket Historical Association. But somehow they have found time to build a successful business on the side.

"It's a hobby that got away with us," Rick commented earlier. To which Kim added, "I love to get up early, come out here, and cut away. All I hear is the sound of wind chimes."

Early mornings may be peaceful, but days can get hectic. Twelve restaurants, including such popular spots as the Summer House, the Club Car, and Company of the Cauldron, depend on them to supply daily bunches of fresh thyme, rosemary, basil, and many other herbs. These deliveries are especially crucial during the summer, high season on this island known not only for its charming homes and endless beaches but also for its fine food.

Although she claims not to be much of a cook, Kim talks knowingly about the virtues of her herbs as she leads a tour around their somewhat overgrown and unkempt one-acre farm.

"This bronze fennel is beautiful in salad. I just cut it to the bottom and strip the leaves," she says. Without prompting, she offers to share recipes for Caraway-Thyme Scones and Lemon-Verbena Pound Cake - two of her herb-infused favorites. And she's clearly proud that she has introduced some unusual herbs to local chefs.

The Morcoms have a taste for the exotic. Chefs ordering mint get a choice of spearmint, ginger mint, chocolate mint, curly mint, apple mint, and pineapple mint. Basil choices include African blue basil, Purple Ruffles basil, Thai basil, Tulsi Sacred basil from India, Mexican spice basil, lemon basil, and lime basil. All in all, they grow 40 different varieties of herbs for commercial use and another 50 or so in smaller quantities.

The top sellers are rosemary, chives, basil, lovage, and an edible-flower mix that includes pansies, Johnny jump-ups, nasturtiums, scented geraniums, and any other edible flowers in season.

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Their clients seem to appreciate the nudge away from common herbs.

"Kim and Rick's pineapple sage with red fuschsia blossoms is one of the most beautiful ingredients I've ever used," says All Kovalencik, chef and owner with his wife, Andrea, of Company of the Caldron.

Mr. Kovalencik has done business with Kimerick Farm for eight years. In fact, Rick's delivery that day supplied the arugula, lavender, and tarragon for an appetizer that wowed diners at his restaurant that evening.

When a reporter and photographer caught up with him, he had 15 minutes to spare before the 7 p.m. seating. Almost 50 hungry people would be coming through the door. Candles were lit, counters spotless in the kitchen, and staff poised for the onslaught.

He chatted easily as he began to assemble the appetizers. Like a painter filling his canvas with vibrant color, each brushstroke adding to a more dazzling design, Kovalencik filled a parfait glass with arugula and avocado salad, perched two pan-seared shrimp on the dish, topped the salad with a cherry tomato, and inserted a sprig of lavender as a final flourish. The first of 48.

"Couldn't have done it without them," he says, pausing to admire his work.

Tomorrow is another day. The truck will be pulling up in the morning, and Kovalencik will put those farm-fresh herbs to use once again. As will the island's other chefs who rely on Kimerick Farm to help bring flavor and beauty to their dishes.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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