Best herbs for preserving
There is a special pleasure that comes from harvesting and preserving herbs in autumn. Just as one squirrels away winter squash, dries strings of chillies, and sauces up excess tomatoes for the freezer, so should herbs be dried, frozen or processed for flavouring winter meals.
If nothing else, who can deny the satisfaction of walking past those bottles of uniformly grey-green dried herbs in a supermarket and know that this is one purchase that you don’t need to make!
The strategy behind preserving herbs in autumn is to concentrate on those that won’t be available in winter, such as annuals that don’t survive the cold, or perennials that die down.
May is the best time to harvest herbs for preserving, because many are getting ready to flower which means that they are at their tastiest. Don’t allow the herbs to flower, however, because the leaves can become bitter.
Best herbs to freeze
- Pick and rinse fresh herbs.
- Chop finely and spoon them into ice-tray cavities, making sure to tightly pack in the herb.
- Pour water in slowly and gently to prevent the herbs splashing out.
- Return to the freezer and allow to freeze solid.
- Empty the herb ice cubes out and store in a labelled and dated plastic bag in the freezer.
- To use, drop the frozen herb into the soup, stew or sauce during cooking.
Best herbs to dry
Most perennial aromatic herbs retain their flavour when dried. This is the easiest, cheapest and most effective method of preserving them.
- Pick fresh herbs after the dew has dried on the leaves
- Spread the leaves on brown paper, newsprint or on a drying rack in a cool room.
- Allow two to three weeks for the herbs to dry out, checking occasionally and to spread them out a bit more.
- Once the leaves are crisp they can be stored in an airtight container that is labelled and dated.
Saving seeds – cumin, dill and fennel
Save seeds by cutting the flower heads off the stalks when the seed is beginning to ripen. Place the seed heads upside down in a paper bag and leave in a warm, dry place for a week. The seeds then separate from the stems easily for storage in an airtight container.
Use the seeds in curries, pickles, bread, biscuits, and savory vegetable dishes.
Preserving herbs the gourmet way
One can be creative with preserving as well. Herb infused oil or vinegar, an aromatic herb rub or pesto are preparations with even wider uses, adding character to a dish far beyond the addition of dried or frozen herbs.
Aromatic dried herb seasoning
Herbes de Provence is mix of dried marjoram, thyme, savory, sage and rosemary that is used for rubbing into meat, chicken or fish or combining with olive oil as a marinade. Mix 3 tablespoons each of dried marjoram, thyme and savory, one teaspoon of rosemary and half a teaspoon each of dried sage and fennel seeds. Crush slightly and store in a sealed jar.
Freshly made pesto has a refrigerator life of about three weeks but that can be extended for months by freezing the pesto in ice-cube trays.
The best herbs for this process are basil, rocket, and coriander, with tarragon also being a possibility. Tarragon has a very dominant flavour and when used as a pesto, it should be an accent, to bring an “edge’ to a dish.
2 cloves garlic
8 tbsp chopped herb
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
50g pine nuts/almonds/macadamia
75g grated Parmesan or Granopadarno cheese
150ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until it reaches the desired texture. Taste and season. Refrigerate or freeze. To use, stir it into freshly cooked pasta, or add it to soup, sauces, pizza, casseroles, vegetable dishes and roasts.
Herb flavoured oil can be used as a salad dressing or in cooking to impart the subtle flavour of the herb.
The best herbs for oils are basil, rosemary, tarragon, and lemon thyme.
Pick fresh herb leaves and allow to dry. Lightly bruise the leaves and put into a sterilised bottle. Pour in light avocado, sunflower or canola oil (not olive) making sure the herb is completely covered.
Seal the jar and put it on a windowsill or near a warm stove. Avoid a position that gets too hot or else the herbs will turn musty.
Shake the jar at least once a day. Within two weeks, the oil should be ready. Taste the oil and if the flavour is not strong enough repeat the process with fresh herbs.
If the flavour is strong enough, strain out the herbs or leave the sprigs in the bottle. In this case the oil will only last about three months.
Herbal vinegar can be made with a single herb or a mix of herbs that complement one another in flavour. Use the herb vinegar in marinades and salad dressings.
The herb vinegar is made in exactly the same way as the herb infused oil is made.
Try these herbs and combinations: Basil, parsley, and garlic, sage, rosemary, and thyme, tarragon (with or without garlic), dill and mustard seed.