Monday, October 17, 2016

Preserving Fresh Herbs - Part 2

Before the frost in the next few weeks I'm scrambling to finish harvesting and preserving the fresh herbs from my garden. Herbs can be kept for a long time by drying or freezing (or transforming into another ingredient like a flavored oil or butter.) Some I scoop up and take indoors too - for example chives, parsley and basil. 

Most often herbs are kept for long periods by drying or freezing them. Some recommend using the oven or a dehydrator, but I find air drying is easiest, the least expensive, accessible to all, and keeps the flavor better. While air drying is a slow, the herb leaves should retain flavor oils than other methods mentioned. Microwaves can also start your herbs on fire (now that's a funny story to share some other time...) 
Formal Herb Garden - Dublin

How to Air Dry Herbs:

All herbs can be dried successfully, but the easiest are the lower water-content ones: sage, dill, savory, oregano and thyme. High water herbs such as basil, tarragon, cilantro and mint, take longer to dry, better airflow when handing, and may need smaller bunches to avoid mold formation. 

  1. Harvest as previously noted in other blog updates
  2. Cut the stems, remove insects, dirt, flowers and less than desirable leaves
  3. Rinse in cold water, set aside to dry. Do not bunch up at all, try to spread on paper on a large horizontal surface.
  4. Low water herbs:
    • When not wet (but they will also not be "dry"), take off several bottom leaves (use these now!) to create space to bunch them up
    • Tie five-six bare stems stalks together, tie 
  5. High Water Herbs:
    • Place on a screen or drying rack without layering
    • Leave to dry individually, turning periodically
  6. Place upside down where there is good airflow (I use a spare bedroom)
  7. In 2-3 weeks - presto - your done!

Now it's time to inspect your handiwork. Make sure the herbs are completely dry. Discard anything that has mold or discoloration. You can leave on stalks but I like to strip the leaves and store them in jars (these make great gifts) or air-tight bags. Place these containers in cool dark places; even the refrigerator. I always make a note to check the stored containers within the first 5 days - if there is any condensate in the container or fogginess - I open and dry longer!

How to Freeze Herbs:

Chive Vinegar
Yes herbs can be frozen. The process is super simple and there are lots of variations. Harvest and prepare as noted above. After washing blanch them in boiling water for 50 sec. then immediately place in an ice bath. Then package in airtight container and freeze! Dill, chives, and basil I have frozen without blanching - others seem to do better that way. A neighbor just takes the herbs I give her late in the year and plops them directly in the freezer! She claims a 50% success rate. Another girlfriend recommended placing herbs into ice cube trays to freeze first, and then puts the "Herb Cubes" into zip lock bags - this makes it super easy to pull out a tablespoon for use! She also grinds herbs into pastes and then freezes these - I started too! Think basil, cilantro, parsley all ready to go in one cube :) How about Pesto?

For other ideas check out my blog on  making herb vinegars and butters :)

Happy Harvesting and Preserving!
Today singing Simon and Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme from 1966.
Teresa Marie


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