Growing and preserving our own herbs and spices is one of the most satisfying experiences of the Manitoba gardener. Since it can be hard to winter our herb garden, we can still get use out of our summer efforts if we put in a bit of effort to preserve some of these wonderful aromatics.
And if you don’t love canning, spice drying might be a better DIY project for you!
Preserving through drying and sometimes crushing can be a cost-effective way to ensure you have a supply of your favourite varieties on hand all year round. Fully dried herbs and spices are safe from bacteria, mold and yeast, and will remain potent for at least six to 12 months. To remove moisture, all you need is air circulation. Some warmth can also help.
When picking your home grown herbs, pick in the morning after the night’s moisture has dried, but before the sun has had time to dry up the naturally occurring essential oils. When picking seed spices, wait until later in the season when seed heads begin turning brown and hard. Harvest herb flowers, such as thyme or chamomile, by snipping off new buds just as they begin to open.
There are many methods for drying and preserving:
Air-Drying – Hang or spread herbs in loose bundles on a screen. Leave in a warm, dry spot until dry, which can take up to a few days. Monitor the process so they don’t get so dry they crumble to powder too easily. If drying out of doors, careful to protect from too much direct sunlight, and bring them in at night before moisture can collect.
Dehydrating – Invest in a dehydrator, or borrow one from someone who isn’t using theirs too frequently. Read the instructions before using as each machine can vary, but dehydrators usually result in a really quick dry product. To dehydrate in an oven is a little risky as oven temperatures are usually too hot. If you want to try, make sure you have convection for good air flow and temperature control. Sometimes turning the light on and leaving the door open (prop it open with a wooden spoon) is enough. Be careful with even the lowest heat setting, and just make sure you watch and check often.
Freezing – Some herbs are better at keeping their flavour if frozen instead of dried. Basil, chives, cilantro, mint, and parsley are all good choices for freezing. Chop or mince your fresh herbs, then pack into ice cube trays with just enough water so that they freeze into a cube. Or instead of water, pour your favourite EVOO into each cube to create a powerful flavour combination. The EVOO will become solid enough in the freezer to hold its shape, so once it is ‘frozen’ you can pop them out, store them in the freezer in a container or Ziploc bag, and free up your ice cube trays for other uses. Use these cubes for soups, sauces, and even fresh-tasting salad dressings in the middle of winter!
Here are some suggestions for our staff’s favourite uses for fresh herbs and spices
Basil - meats, poultry, fish, soups, stews, pasta, vegetables, stuffings,salads, dressings, eggs, dips, sauces
Rosemary - meats, poultry, fish, casseroles, eggs, soups, salads, stews, vegetables, breads
Poultry Seasoning - make your own pre-mixed combination of marjoram, savory, thyme and black pepper, used in poultry stuffings and other bread stuffings
Sage - meats, poultry, soups, stews, casseroles, eggs, stuffings, vegetables, sauces
Saffron - the most expensive spice in the world; chicken, fish, seafood, rice, breads, cakes
Turmeric - can be used in place of saffron, poultry, fish, eggs, soups, salad dressings, sauces, relishes, pickles
A special thank you to Mother Earth Living where we found a lot of this great info.