Morning hoppy little bunnies, teasers of basset hounds and gobblers of my garden.
Today we are veering far, far away from the primary topic of this blog to talk about my garden and the giant amount of herbs currently in my possession. I know I’ve posted photos before, but our yard is very small for a city lot, leaving our backyard only 11 feet deep (that’s um, 3.3 meters for you crazy metric kids!) Nevertheless, we’ve managed to pack it with hostas, roses, blue fescue, tomatoes, cucumbers, catmint, a fair amount of weeds and a TON of herbs – particularly tarragon, oregano and thyme, which manage to over-winter here in a freakish taunt to mother nature.
This spring Mr. Bug and I made it a goal to be better about the edible part of our garden this year. No to over-planting and yes to learning new skills (canning, drying, etc.) to preserve what we DID grow, rather than holding what has been our annual day of cleaning up all the tomato plants with the way-past-their-prime tomatoes still hanging on the vine.
Last night for whatever reason I was completely motivated to start working on the herbs. I was done earlier than expected at my new job (thanks for all the nice comments! It was super fun!) and when I got home I did a bit of internet research regarding the best way to preserve herbs and I made a game plan. I snapped pictures along the way to share with you bunnies…
I started out with sea salt, kosher salt (which apparently is camera shy, it’s there, though, behind the sea salt), olive oil, string and a few other things. I went out and cut about a third of my herbs, which turned out to be WAY too much! I started this around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and broke for about 2 hours between dog walks and dinner making, but other than that I worked steadily and wasn’t done ’till after midnight!
Here are the herbs all spread out on the table – they were PACKED into the baskets!
I picked rosemary, parsley (just regular parsley), oregano, thyme, purple and sweet basil. Oh! and some sage up in the lower left hand corner (by the basil) which I forgot to label. My bad. I ended up tossing the oregano – the stuff I picked was woody and bug-eaten, so I need to go back out and be more selective with my harvesting!
After all those hours, here’s what I ended up with!
Whew! Whatta lot of work that was! I’ll go over in quick detail what I did, but I tried four different methods of preserving – air drying, salting, freezing in oil and herb butters. I considered a few other methods including the freezing in an ice cube tray with water, drying in paper bags, oven drying and microwave drying but ultimately rejected those. We have a very small freezer with only one ice cube tray that makes itty bitty cubes and I didn’t want buy regular ice trays. Plus, I read that herbs preserved by freezing in water get icky when thawed out. As for the different ways of drying – we have the room and the patience to try air drying and that seemed to be the preferred method so I went with that. I’d been planning on also trying to dry some in paper bags, but when I went over to neighbor-Larry’s house to borrow his salad spinner we chatted a bit about my plans and his experience with drying herbs in bags hadn’t been successful (well, he was successful in growing mold…) so I thought I’d skip that one!
By the way, have I mentioned my neighbor before? His name is Larry and among other things he films home and garden segments at his house for TV (Here’s his public facebook page! Lots of great posts re. gardening, especially if you’re in zone 4/5! Um, are the gardening zones just a U.S. thing??) It’s like living next door to Martha Stewart, except something tells me Larry’s parties are much more fun than Martha’s!! He’s an excellent neighbor and it’s pretty nice to have someone so close who’s so full of information AND owns every kitchen implement known to man and available for borrowing!
The first thing I did with all of the herbs was to pick through, getting rid of the bad stuff and then I washed and dried using Larry’s salad spinner and paper towels. It. Takes. A. Long. Time.
Air drying herbs
I’ve ALWAYS wanted to air-dry herbs! There’s something about arranging and bundling little packets of herbs and tying them with string and putting them to sleep for a few weeks in the dark that’s super-appealing to me! I made bundles of rosemary, thyme and parsley. Apparently, this isn’t a great way to preserve the more ‘juicy’ herbs (basil comes to mind) and I have my doubts about how the parsley will do, but I thought I’d try it out. We have so much parsley that I can experiment a bit. Rosemary and thyme are my most-used herbs, so I hope those work out well.
I tried to strip the stems back a bit before tying, but that was difficult with the thyme, so those aren’t quite so neat. Then I just used regular kitchen twine and looped around a bunch of times with knots. I tied the bundles onto hangers and am planning on hanging from the ceiling of our coat closet, which has high enough ceilings to dangle herbs and leave them enough room so we aren’t bonking them with our coats all the time. I’m a bit concerned over what it will do to the stuff stashed in the closet – I mean, they DO smell nice, but I’m not sure if I want all my outerwear smelling like a roast!
Here they are, ready to go play 4 weeks in the closet! According to web-reports, they should be fully dried in 2-4 weeks. I’ll be able to tell because the leaves will crumble easily. At that point I’ll take off the stems and store in airtight containers – I’m thinking canning jars, but we’ll see!
Drying herbs in salt
This was a totally new method for me – I hadn’t even heard of it before seeing a post on Lifehacker the other day about it! Anyone else addicted to Lifehacker?? It’s one of the only non-sewing/fashion blogs I read. That and Gawker, which is my main source for news…
Anyway, apparently you can also dry herbs by layering in salt. I wasn’t 100% sure the herb to salt ratio to use so I don’t know how this will turn out. It’s rather hard to do, as herbs don’t really like to ‘layer’ with anything – I’d pour in the salt and the leaves would still be poking through the salt layers! I tried one jar of rosemary and one jar of sage using kosher salt rather than sea salt. Expect results in… oh, whenever!
I processed the rest of the herbs by doing some sort of freezing. I made two different herb butters – parsley and tarragon – as I thought I’d be the most likely to want to put parsley and tarragon on vegetables or perhaps use to make eggs. Side note: I set out 4 sticks of butter to warm up to room temp and ran over to borrow the salad spinner. I came home to one very overstimulated hound dog and one Mr. Bug dead asleep. I thought the hound was getting sick, until I realized I only had THREE STICKS OF BUTTER sitting on the counter. Not sick, just filled with puppy joy. We’re now calling her the butter pig and she did not get any lamb and rice kibble for dinner last night. We figured she consumed a week’s worth of calories in that stick of butter. She was even pretty slow in eating her breakfast this morning…
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! Freezing herbs, so I made herb butters and then I froze the rest of the parsley and all of the basil in olive oil. For both methods I started out by chopping the herbs into teeny, tiny bits. Well, small bits. I don’t own a food processor, having a bias against superfluous appliances with cords. We don’t even own a toaster.
The herb butters were super easy to make. I just mixed a bunch of herbs with room temperature butter, then made dollops on a plate lined with cling wrap and stuck in the fridge to harden. After they were firm I wrapped each ball of herb-butter in cling wrap and put into a ziplock bag to stash in the freezer. I expect these to last for a few months.
The dollops look pretty similar, so I ‘marked’ the parsley half of the plate with a sprig of parsley.
To freeze the basil and parsley in olive oil, I used a mini-muffin pan lined with cling wrap as a mold. I wanted a pretty fair sized frozen helping of these two herbs and the olive oil/herb mixture was pretty slidey – I couldn’t just make a ‘dollop’ with a spoon like I did with the herb butters.
Yes, we have red cling wrap. We also have some with sailboats and christmas something-or-other. Mr. Bug always buys it on clearance – this is Christmas wrap!
Once I smashed the oil/herb mixture into the pan I put more cling wrap on top and stuck in the freezer overnight. They were pretty easy to pop out this morning – I had to use a knife on a few, but most just came right out when I tugged on the cling wrap. Had I NOT used the wrap, this one have been one hot mess. Errrr… frozen mess, I guess. But definitely something that would have made me stab myself in the eye with my prying knife.
Here they are! I wrapped all of these individually as well and stuck in the freezer in a ziplock bag. I believe these will last for a few months. I really like parsley in cous cous, so I’m excited to start using them!
So there you have it, my night of preserving herbs. I still have more than half to take care of as well as finding something to do with the cucumbers and potentially tomatoes – if they actually ripen. Anyone have good suggestions for preserving (i.e. pickle, salsa, sauce recipes?) I’ve maxed out our freezer space (seriously, people, I have the smallest freezer in the universe!) so it’ll have to be canning and drying from here on out!