In the Chicago area, we’ve had a lovely June weather wise. Plenty of rain and cool temperatures (at least before this last weekend). The garden is really taking off! Tomatoes are more than two feet high and the peppers and cucumbers are not far behind. But there is some garden harvest we need to preserve. By now, you should be enjoying fresh herbs from the garden. But I’m sure you have more than you can use while they are still fresh.
Of course, nothing is as good as fresh herbs but for the short term, freezing works well. Freezing works well with herbs such as fennel, chives, tarragon, and basil. Use young, not overgrown leaves and pick them early in the morning. Blanch in boiling water for thirty seconds then plunge into an ice bath to stop cooking and retain color. Dry on paper towels and pack in freezer bags. Squeeze out as much air as possible, then freeze. Parsley does not need blanching; simply wash, dry, and freeze. Use frozen herbs within a few months.
Drying herbs will give you a longer shelf life. Hanging to dry works best for small leaved herbs like tarragon, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Tie them into loose bundles and hang. You can use a clothes hanger and wrap in cheesecloth to protect from dust. Keep them out of the sun to preserve color. Best temperature is mid 70s.
Drying in the oven is easy and quick. Blanch herbs in boiling water like the freezing method. Blot dry with paper towels and place in one layer on a rack or mesh screen. Place in a 120 degree oven with the door open for about an hour or until crisp. We are drying herbs, not cooking them. Store dried herbs in small glass jars away from light and excessive heat. Use within 6-8 months for best flavor.
No herbs in the garden? Pick some up at the early Farmer’s Markets for some fresh and flavorful additions to your summer recipes.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO