Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Drying your own herbs?

Yes, nothing beats the taste of fresh herbs picked from your own garden and added, seconds later, to the pan simmering on your stove.

But when fresh herbs are no longer in season, there's no reason to resort to those jars of stale supermarket herbs that have lingered in your pantry for years.
Last weekend, my family had a chance to visit a place where herb plants were in abundance. My herb plants in the garden have passed their season. Unfortunately, only the chives survived. So, I snipped a handful of the herbs I could find.
It was a good thing we were there early morning just as the dew evaporated and before they are subject to direct sunlight. I carefully picked the ones just before the flowers open as this is when the oil in the leaves are at it's highest level, providing the greatest flavor. But if there are a few flowers, I guess it won't matter too much. If you plan to dry your own herbs, this is what you’ll do. If you've harvested entire "branches" you can air-dry them by tying the stems together and hanging them upside down in a large brown paper bag or plastic bag with holes around it for ventilation. Make sure there is plenty of room inside the bag so leaves do not touch the sides of the bag. Label them and date each bag. Look for a dry, fairly warm area away from direct sunlight to hang your herbs.. There is no need to wash them first, unless they have dirt or other inedible bits attached. If you do need to rinse them briefly in cold water, pat them dry immediately with paper towels before hanging.
It should take between two and four weeks to yield an excellent supply of dried herbs. Test them periodically to see how they're doing. The leaves should be brittle but not so dry that they crumble to dust between your fingers! When herbs are dry and crumbly, remove leaves from stems. Crush leaves with a rolling pin or leave whole. Pack in an airtight container, preferably dark, or zip-top bag with air removed. I combine half of the yield in one container for my roasts, pastas, pizzas and soups. Some recipes dictate individual portions so I keep the rest in separate containers. Use within 6 months.
Reminder: Sage, thyme, summer savory, dill, bay leaves, oregano, rosemary and marjoram are sturdy, low-moisture herbs that are best suited for air-drying.
Basil, tarragon, lemon balm and the mints have a high moisture content and will mold if not dried quickly. So the oven, dehumidifier or dehydrator methods work better.
Chives are best frozen.

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