Monday, September 28, 2009

2 Ways to Preserve Fresh Herbs

I love cooking with fresh herbs. Unfortunately, when the winter snows come, there goes the fresh herbs I have growing right outside my kitchen door in pots on my patio. This year, I decided to take my cue from the small furry squirrels that are currently gathering nuts for their winter siesta and try my hand at preserving fresh herbs from my herb garden for winter.


The two main methods for preserving fresh herbs are drying and freezing. I’ve done both. Here’s how.

How to Dry Fresh Herbs



The big thing with drying herbs comes down to timing. It’s best that the moisture leaves the herb quickly for maximum flavor. However, if you dry the herb too long and at too high a temperature, you will fry the herb and lose a lot of the flavor of the herb in the process.

One way to get around this issue is to dry your herbs in an electric food dehydrator. Most electric food dehydrators have temperature controls and timers so you can easily set the dehydrator to do its thing and in a short amount of time come back to nice dry herbs ready for an airtight container in your pantry or cupboard. If you don’t own your own food dehydrator you might be able to borrow one from a friend or relative (just return it to the owner in a clean state in a reasonable amount of time please.)

If you want to save electricity (and at these high prices who doesn’t?) there are also several non-electric food dehydrators available for sale. Just be advised that they will take a little longer to get the job done than the electric variety for obvious reasons.

I don’t use the food dehydrator method for one simple reason: I don’t have one.

However, you can still successfully dry fresh herbs without a food dehydrator. The key is to allow air to circulate around the herbs while they are drying so the herbs dry evenly and do not mildew due to moisture buildup. That’s why when I first tried drying herbs on a cookie sheet it didn’t work out very well. However, I did come up with three very easy and inexpensive methods for drying fresh herbs.

  • The first method is to put the herb leaves in a small paper bag (one herb per bag please) and put the bag in a cool dry place. Every once and awhile shake the bag to loosen up the herbs and check if they are completely dry or not. Once the herbs are completely dry, transfer them to an airtight container (leftover spice bottles work well for this project) and store them in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard or pantry for further use. 
  • The second method is best for drying herbs with small leaves like thyme, or when it’s time to cut back the plants in your herb garden. Cut the stalks of the plant and tie them into a bundle using a rubber band, string, ribbon, etc. Hang the herb bundle upside down in a cool dark and moisture free place to dry. Once the herbs are completely dry, transfer the leaves to airtight containers and store them in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard or pantry for further use
  • The third method is to pick the leaves of the herb and put the herbs on a piece of window screen or elevated cheesecloth (I put a piece of cheesecloth on a wire cake rake and it worked out OK) and put the herbs in a cool moisture free place to dry. You can cover the rack with an extra piece of cheesecloth if you are concerned about dust getting on your herbs while they are drying. Again, once the herbs are completely dry, transfer the leaves to airtight containers and store them in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard or pantry for further use.
How to Freeze Fresh Herbs

Freezing fresh herbs is much easier and quicker than drying them. Many cooks consider freezing herbs the best way to preserve the herbs flavor, color, and nutrients. Unfortunately freezing leaves the herbs a little limp and lifeless so they are best used in cooked dishes. Here are two easy and inexpensive methods for freezing fresh herbs.

  • The ice cube method. Wash the herb leaves and break or chop so the leaves so they fill a section of a standard ice cube tray. Fill each section of the ice cube tray with the herb; add just enough water to the tray to cover each section, and then freeze. Once the herbs are completely frozen into cubes, transfer the cubes to another airtight container in your freezer. The added bonus of this method is that when it’s time to cook with your herbs, you already have a measured amount to grab from the freezer and go to your stove.
  • The just freeze it method. Wash the herb leaves, put them in a container, and stick the whole thing in the freezer. This method works at preserving the herbs put can make it difficult to thaw out a small amount of your chosen herb from the larger herb ice cube sickle.
Now that you know how to preserve your fresh summer herbs you can easily go to your cupboard or freezer in winter, grab those herbs, and get cooking!

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