Preserving Summer’s Herbs


All summer, you’ve been snipping fresh herbs for daily cooking. Don’t let the cool weather end your enjoyment.

By FamilyTime

 

The pots of herbs on the deck or patio are lush and fragrant and the plants in the garden are at their peak. All summer, you’ve happily added handfuls of fresh herbs to everyday dishes, enjoying the zest and full flavor they provide.

Don’t let the onset of cooler weather toll the end of your herb cookery. With a little imagination and time, you can preserve your glorious herbs until next year’s crop starts to grow.

Drying and Freezing
There’s no great trick to drying herbs. Pick herbs that are not flowering. Make sure they are dry (a rainy morning is not a good day to harvest herbs).

Leave the leaves on the stem and gather and tie them in small bunches to allow good air circulation. If the herb stems are large, you can lay them on a rack.

Hang herb bunches in a dry, warm room – not a humid area such as the kitchen or laundry room. Hang them from a rack or line, far enough from the wall and each other so that air circulates freely.

When dry, gently strip the leaves from the stems, crumble the leaves slightly between your fingers. Store them in a tightly lidded glass or ceramic container. Plastic is not recommended.

Opaque jars are best – or plan to store clear jars in a dark cupboard. Light and heat sap the herbs of essential oils, so you want to avoid both.

If you prefer, lay dry, leafy stems of herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet or other tray. Freeze until stiff.

Pull the leaves from the stems, taking care to handle the brittle leaves carefully. Crumble them slightly, if you want, and store in a rigid container in the freezer until you need them. The herb leaves are too fragile for freezer bags.

Oils, Vinegars, and Butters
Olive oil infused with your garden-grown tarragon, thyme, basil, rosemary, or oregano (to name a few) will liven up mid-winter salads, sauces, and sautés.

To preserve herbs in oil, pound the herb to a paste in mortar with a pestle and stir in a few drops of high-quality olive oil. Mix this with the rest of the oil in the bottle, transfer to a sterilized bottle, cover, and set aside for about two weeks.

Strain the oil into another sterilized jar, add a few sprigs of the herb, seal with a cork or tight cap, and store in a cool, dark cupboard.

To preserve herbs in vinegar, follow almost the same procedure. Use these herb-flavored vinegars in vinaigrettes, sauces, marinades, and as lively accents to soups and stews.

The difference when making herbed vinegars instead of oils is that the vinegar is heated. Once the herb is pounded in the mortar, transfer it to a sterilized jar. Meanwhile, bring two or three cups of vinegar to a boil and pour it over the herb. For most herbs, white wine vinegar is the right choice.

Once the vinegar cools seal and set aside, as you did with the oil, for two to three weeks. Strain into another sterilized jar, add a few sprigs of the herb, seal, and store in a cool, dark cupboard.

Another idea is to chop a generous amount of an herb – parsley, basil, or thyme, for example – and mix it with softened butter. Add chopped garlic, if you like. Wrap the butter in wax paper, shaped into small logs, and freeze.

Use pats of the herb butter on potatoes and rice during the winter, or use it to make deliciously warm garlic or herb bread.

Herb-infused oils and vinegars make lovely gifts—but even if you never give them away you and your family will savor them all winter long.