The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 18, 1999


SUMMER OUTINGS: A trip to the Herb Lyceum in Groton

This is the first of an occasional article that will appear in the Mosquito throughout June, July and August, featuring places to go and things to do during the summertime in and around Carlisle.

It was the last Saturday evening in May that my friend, Bonnie, organized a group of friends to go for dinner at the Gilson family's Herb Lyceum in Groton, Massachusetts. She had taken a course at their herbal school earlier in the spring and had learned about the Saturday night herbal dinners that can provide seating for up to 25 guests.

The Herb Lyceum is located at 368 Main Street (Route 119) in Groton center (the second driveway after the Groton-Dunstable High School), approximately 25 minutes from Carlisle. The four-acre Gilson homestead includes a renovated 19th-century barn where the herbal dinners are served and courses are taught; beautiful and fragrant herb gardens, greenhouses and flowering trees. Over 300 varieties of herbs culinary, medicinal and landscapeare offered for sale at the Lyceum, Wednesday through Sunday, 9 to 4 p.m.

Before dinners on Saturday nights, guests are taken on an informative tour of the gardens and greenhouses by David Gilson, the knowledgable, warm and friendly owner of the Lyceum. What a treat to see and hear about such an unimaginable variety of herbsdifferent kinds of basil, green and purple, dozens of varieties of mints, French and lemon thyme, lavender and rosemary, just to mention a few. Gilson also pointed out the heirloom tomatoes he grows, varieties that date back to the 1920s before the hybrids became popular. Their flavors, he assured us, are far superior to those of most tomatoes grown in gardens today. The Herb Lyceum, which until recently only sold plants wholesale, is one of the largest herb gardens in America.

Luckily, the rain clouds had disappeared as we finished our tour of the greenhouses that Saturday evening, and we were ushered out onto the deck of the barn for herbal lemonade, an herbal cheese spread with crackers, and time to chat before dinner with David and his father, Howard Gilson.

Inside the kitchen, the chef, David's son Will Gilson, was putting the finishing touches on the meal in which we would shortly partake. William is a sophomore at the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School and is apprenticing under Chef Charlie Dreghi, of the highly acclaimed Marcuccio's restaurant in Boston's North End.

As our party settled down for dinner in the main dining room of the restored 19th-century barn, each of us was greeted at our place at the table by a large linen napkin folded around a beautiful blossoming chive. To me, this seemed just the right touch for the delicious four-course meal that was about to follow.

On the menu this evening was a risotto-stuffed pepper with cheese, as the first course, followed by an unusual Waldorf salad using pine nuts instead of walnuts. Grilled chicken breast served over a bed of fiddleheads with a reduced balsamic vinegar dressing, drizzled decoratively about the dinner plate, was the main course. We finished with a chocolate mint cake topped with a scented-geranium-flavored whipped cream.

In between each course, the chef stood at the head of the table for a moment or two, to explain the ingredients used in each dish and comment on the herbs that had been featured. It is here that he shared many a culinary tip, and eagerly answered questions about the making of each individual course.

Next weekend, June 26 and 27 will be Lavender Weekend at the Herb Lyceum. There will be lavender-theme dinners on Friday and Saturday nights, and during the day, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be a Lavender Pamper Palace where you can get an herbal face mask, a soothing foot soak, and a five-minute massage. There will be demonstrations and herbal food sampling and you'll learn tips for planting, pruning, harvesting and drying the herb.

The Lyceum was originally designed to serve as an herbal school for the promotion of these "useful plants," but this spring the Gilsons decided to embark on their Saturday Night Herbal Dinners which are very informational. Reservations are required and seating is limited, but I found it a wonderful way to share an evening meal with a group of good friends.

For more information about the Lyceum and its various functions ranging from lectures, business meetings, herbal lunches and dinners and private parties, call David Gilson at 978-448-6499.

Chicken Waldorf Salad with Fresh Basil Recipe

The Salad

2 pounds cooked white chicken, cubed

1 cup cantaloupe, cubed

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup green apple, cubed

1 Tb. fresh basil, chopped

The Dressing

3/4 cup Japanese rice vinegar

1 Tb. Dijon mustard

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup honey

1 cup vegetable oil, not olive oil

1. Prepare the dressing first. Combine vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard. Mix until


2. Add honey and soy sauce.

3. Slowly add the oil and blend thoroughly.

4. Place chicken, celery and cantaloupe in a large salad bowl. Gradually add the dressing until the mixture is well coated.

5. Scatter apples, walnuts and basil on top.

Serve salad on lettuce-lined salad plates. Serves 8 to 10

This isn't exactly the Waldorf salad we had for dinner at The Lyceum. However, the dressing is the same and quite delicious. The recipe comes from The Best of Thymes, a cookbook written by Marge Clark.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito