From the spring garden to the Thanksgiving table

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Gardening as a hobby or a recreational activity has been a part of our culture for tens of years. But as much fun and rewarding as a rose garden might be, it can’t beat the advantages of a herb and veggie garden. A fresh, juicy tomato from your own crop can bring just as much pleasure as the scent of the lillies.

But your herb garden can continue to bring flavour to your life and to your dinner table long after the pretty flowers have fadded away, and all you need is a little know-how.

The most common way of preserving aromatic herbs for long periods of time is the drying method. It is easy and quite efficient. Pick your herbs when they are young and flavorfull. You can chop them up or dry them in little cuttlings, just like you pick them. Lay them down on regular paper, not waxed. Newspaper will do just fine. And let them dry out completely some place away from extreme temperature variations. The secret to best preserving the flavour and some of the green hint in the final, dry product is to protect them from light while drying. You may cover them loosely with a second sheet of paper, which will protect from dust as well. You can check them about every other day and fluff them lightly with your fingers, especially if you have them in a thick layer. You want to make sure that the herbs are completely dry before you put them up in a closed container, as moisture will develop mold and thus spoil your herbs. As a safer alternative, you can store your dried product in cloth bags, somewhere away from moisture, such as the steam from your usual kitchen activity.

Use your dry aromatic plants to add spice and flavour to your dishes all through the year.

Another good way of preserving your herbs and spices is to freeze them as soon as you pick them. By comparison to the drying method, freezing prezerves more of the “zing” of the fresh herb, but it poses a problem as far as portioning is concerned. If you choose to freeze the herbs, you may want to put individual servings in small bags or containers, as repeatedly thawing and refreezing, as needed to detach the small portions from a larger container will alter the product.
Another method of preserving that works very well especially for the dill weed is a variaty of canning, that doesn’t, actually involve any cooking at all. All you need is a clean mason jar and some kosher salt. Alternate layers of fresh dill weed and salt in the jar as follows: Start by covering the bottom with a thin layer of salt, about a tenth of an inch thick, or just enough so you can’t see the bottom of the jar. Follow with a layer of fresh dill, about two inches thick, and continue to alternate layers all the way to the top. Finish with salt. Cover with lid. It doesn’t have to be air-tight. It can be kept at room temperature or in the fridge. Protect from freezing.
Small portions of it can be used year-round, making sure every time to refresh the top layer of salt.
This particular method migh not be the best for people that are under the restrictions of a low sodium diet and, generally speaking, when using herbs preserved in salt you may want to adjust accordingly the amount of salt required by various recipes. You can minimize the potential problem by rinsing off the small portions immediately prior to use, in a small strainer, under a cold stream of water for about three minutes.

However you choose to preserve and use your herbs is ultimately your choice and you should probably try them all just to see which fits your taste buds best. And even if your time and patience doesn’t stretch quite that much, simply taking advantage of the your herb garden during the peak crop season can be a wonderful addition to the general idea of stress-relief through gardening.

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