Preserving Your Summer Herbs

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fresh is BEST -- especially when we're talking herbs. I enjoy my fresh herbs from the garden all summer long....but all good things come to an end. As my mind starts to turn to fall, I know that the goodness of my fresh herbs will be ending......but I'll have wonderful reminders of all that fresh goodness -- preserved herbs! There are several methods of preserving and depending on what herbs you are wanting to keep will determine how to preserve. Some things to remember, an herb's flavor is most pronounced just before the plant begins to flower. You can prolong the harvest by snipping off the flower buds whenever they appear. The essential oils are concentrated in the leaves in early morning, before the sun causes them to be released into the air. Early morning is, therefore, the best time to harvest. Snip individual leaves or cut an entire shoot just above a leaf node (this will encourage dormant buds to grow at the nodes for a bushier plant). Harvest the seeds of dill, fennel, and coriander when the flower heads have faded and started to dry. Clip the flower heads and place them in paper bags, then shake the heads to dislodge the seeds. Store seeds in an airtight container.

Drying: Many herbs can be air dried by tying several stems together with a rubber band and hanging them in a cool, dark, dry location. Bay, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme are good candidates for drying. If the area is dusty, keep the herbs in paper bags during the drying process. Parsley and thyme retain more of their color if they are dried in a 150-degree oven or in a dehydrator. When leaves are brittle, pull them off the stems and store in airtight jars in a cool, dark place. Don't crumble the leaves until you use them because they will lose flavor. Dried herbs keep their flavor and color for about three months.

Freezing: Some herbs keep their flavor best when frozen. These include basil, chives, chervil, dill, lemon balm, mints, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, French tarragon, thyme, and lemon verbena. Wash them thoroughly and shake or pat off the excess water. Place individual leaves or chopped leaves in freezer bags. Flatten the bags to remove air. Dill, sage, rosemary, and thyme also freeze well on the stalks, which you can add frozen to cooking pots and remove before serving.

You can also puree herbs with a small amount of water and freeze the paste in small, zippered freezer bags. Then break off frozen pieces as you need them. Combine herbs that are good culinary companions, such as sage and thyme, mix with a little olive oil, and seal the paste in freezer bags. Or pour the mixture into ice cube trays. Once frozen, remove and store in freezer bags and thaw individual cubes as needed.

Every cook should have these top ten basic culinary herbs within his or her reach, fresh or preserved. If you don't grow herbs or not all of these anyway, check with your local Farmer's Market.

Basil – Use in pesto (which freezes beautifully), Italian sauces, soups and stews.

Dill – Not just for dill pickles, use in cottage cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese, omelets, seafood (especially salmon), potato salad and breads.

Chives – Great in everything from eggs to potatoes.

Cilantro – Essential ingredients for any salsa.

Mint – Fabulous with beverages like teas and lemonade, desserts with chocolate or with lamb.

Oregano – Great in Italian sauces , soups, and stews and a must have for greek salads.

Parsley – Blends flavors, adds color, and garnishes any dish beautifully - grow both curly and flat-leaf.

Sage – Primarily used in sausages and turkey stuffing -- must have for Thanksgiving!

Tarragon – Used in fish, omelets, and chicken cooked with mustard, and it’s a crucial component of Bearnaise sauce -- disclosure: NOT my favorite although I grow some because I like the scent I don't bother with stocking it in my pantry.

Thyme – French herb primarily used in beef burgundy, soups and stews also perfect for seasoning poultry and pork. I love the *flavored* thymes you can grow.

Editing to include in my dear friend Yvonne's On The Menu Monday Party!!