From the first oregano plant I put in the ground two decades ago, I’ve been hooked on growing and using herbs. An herb garden close to the kitchen door enhances the landscape and provides color, texture and taste to summer recipes. A sprig of mint in tea or lemonade livens up drinks. They seem fresher and embrace a summer of hammocks and comic books. Trout stuffed with fresh rosemary and grilled with olive oil and sea salt could replace the hamburger as a cookout staple. Aromatic basil for homemade pesto. Feathery dill to flavor your pickles. Pungent chives for salads and garnish… I could go on and on.
When you love herbs and become spoiled by stepping out to the garden for a leaf of this or a sprig of that, the end of summer looms like a giant rainless cloud on the horizon. How do you save these herbs so you can use them all through the winter?
1. You can pot them up and put them in a sunny window. These are lovely and will satisfy both your love of culinary herbs and your need to poke around in soil.
2. You can preserve your herbs through drying. The fact is, for many dishes, dried herbs are preferable to fresh. Rosemary, for example, can be pretty chewy if the little needles aren’t dried to a nice crisp snap before you use them for grilled rosemary potatoes are rosemary-garlic bread.
Solar Drying for Sun-Kissed Herbs
Let’s say you have oregano, sage, rosemary, basil and thyme that you don’t want to watch wither on the vine when autumn winds begin to blow. My favorite way to preserve their color and flavor is simply to clip sprigs of the herbs and lay them out in a single layer in a stainless steel roasting pan aimed at the sun. You can also use baking sheets, but a roasting pan provides a little more edge in case a gust of wind comes along. You will be amazed at the amount of heat generated and beware: you may need hot pads to move the pan after it has been lounging in direct sun.
I’ve tried drying herbs in a low oven and it worked. Sort of. They got dry. But I thought the color and flavor were not as vibrant as with sun drying. It also seems silly to have the oven on for two hours when there is a perfectly good sun outside just waiting to work its magic. I have resisted acquiring a dehydrator because I just don’t want another piece of equipment on the kitchen counter. Or worse yet, another gewgaw gathering dust next to my espresso machine and Panini-maker in the pantry.
After allowing your herbs to dry in the sun for a few days, simply check on them for dryness. They should be crumbly, aromatic and not at all sticky. Rosemary takes a day or two longer than thyme or oregano. When they are dry, simply slip the herbs off the stems and put them in a jar with an airtight lid. I use regular canning jars and add a label with the herb name and date.
That’s all there is to it.
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