It’s fair to say that the Friends of Moody Gardens are brewing up something special for their annual Gulf Coast Herb Fair. Every year, the group designates a signature herb as a culinary focus for the herb fair’s presentations and luncheon menu. For the 2018 fair, scheduled for March 7, the group selected hops, the flower that gives beer its distinctive bittersweet tang, as the plant in the spotlight.

To keep hops at the center of the menu, Andres Castaneda, attractions executive chef at Moody Gardens, added the little-used herb to soup, salads and chicken. “It was a challenge,” Castaneda said. “I love cooking with beer, because there are so many different ways to use it, so I figured once we started we’d see what we could do with hops.”

Hops have medicinal uses besides beer. Hops are used in traditional medicine to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and aid sleep, and are often combined in lavender and other herbs in sleep-inducing sachets and pillows.

Homebrewed beer has grown in popularity, and homegrown hops can be part of that process as well. The Gulf Coast Herb Fair kicks off with a presentation on growing hops locally. John Jons, who is both a master gardener and an award-winning home brewer, will explain how to grow hops in the Gulf Coast’s soil and climate conditions, based in part on hop growing trials conducted in Galveston and Harris counties.

The herb fair’s first luncheon speaker is no stranger to hops; Galveston Island Brewing’s Mark Dell’Osso will speak on the brewing process, followed by a presentation from Moody Gardens Animal Husbandry manager Greg Whittaker. In addition to having a brewer, the luncheon menu also features brew, in the form of beer-battered cod, pasta with Shiner cream sauce, and tortellini with Pilsner reduction vinaigrette.

While not as robustly represented on the menu, other herbs will be plentiful for sale by local vendors and at cooking demonstrations scheduled throughout the morning. The vendors will also have books, food items and gifts at their retail booths.

Proceeds of the Gulf Coast Herb Fair help the Friends of the Moody Gardens provide educational outings to schoolchildren and seniors. “The Friends offer an outing to all third- and fifth-graders in Galveston,” Friends past President Mary Lou Kelso said. “Every class has the opportunity to visit, and the Friends serve as docents to make it a rewarding and memorable visit.”

The Friends outreach program has grown to include other groups as well. “Our outreach in the community has expanded to Ronald McDonald House, Libbie’s Place and the Sunshine Center,” Kelso explained. “If they can’t come to us, we can take the mobile presentation to them.”

The Gulf Coast Herb Fair takes place in the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid atrium beginning at 9 a.m. on March 7, with Jons’ seminar on growing hops scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Admission to the morning events at the herb fair is free, and luncheon tickets are available for $35. For tickets, email friendsofmoody or call (409) 740-6842.

Bernice Torregrossa:

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