Temperatures are still going up and down in Southern Ontario, so the arrival of the cold season is still a surmise; however, the morning frost last week killed the tender annuals in my backyard, a clear sign that it is time to prepare the garden for winter and wrap up the harvest. The shell beans, tomato, tomatillo and pepper plants were pulled; garlic cloves were sowed for next year’s crop; some perennials were trimmed to the ground, such as asparagus and horseradish. As for my herbs, some plants have gone to seed that will sprout in the spring, while others are losing their leaves and will remain dormant during the winter months. A few tender perennials were brought inside in pots, placed near a heating register and a sunny window:
For a couple of months now, I have been collecting leaves to preserve for my kitchen supply. Large-leaf herbs such as basil and perilla (shiso), may be washed, dried, and piled up in freezer bags:
Kept in the freezer, they may be taken out when needed, and chunks from the frozen pile may be broken and added to soups and sauces. Another good way to store them in the freezer, is to roll a bunch into a log, then wrap in plastic or foil, as shown below for epazote: stems must be harvested while green and before seed is produced, then washed and dried (photo below, left); individual leaves are plucked, discarding damaged ones and stems (photo below, centre); a bunch of leaves is rolled into a log and wrapped (photo below, right):
Some people chop fresh leaves and preserve them in ice cubes, but I prefer not to chop until it is time to use the herbs, to preserve their full flavour, and the cubes would take up too much space in my freezer. This method allows me to keep good amounts of herbs in convenient logs that may be sliced frozen to add to different dishes. In the photo below, my epazote roll, as well as several rolls of basil:
Note that I have discontinued the use of plastic wrap in my kitchen, so the last batch, on the right, was wrapped in Al foil. It is very important to label the logs, to avoid the suspense from losing track and opening packages not knowing what they hold. I learned this method at Margaret Roach’s “A Way to Garden” website, which she also uses for parsley, chives and cilantro; as she explains, freezing herbs with the log technique is very easy and “when you need some, you just slice a disc from one end of the log and return the rest to the bag, and freezer”, as seen below for my log of epazote:
Finally, I like to dry leafy herbs with low moisture level, which keep their flavours and scents strong even when dried. Some good examples are sage, oregano and thyme. In the photo below, my latest harvest from two weeks ago, from left to right, sage, oregano, calendula (pot marigold) and thyme:
I washed all the herbs with cold water, and let them dry on a kitchen towel:
As seen in the photo above, I removed the sage leaves and calendula petals and seed from their stems. I just allowed them to dehydrate completely on the kitchen counter. Once dried, the sage leaves may be kept whole to add to stews or infusions, or crumbled to add to soups, or stuffing:
My main crop of calendula was harvested and preserved a while ago, but I wanted to show how the seed and petals may be dried, as shown below:
I save the seed in a paper envelope, to sow the next spring in the garden, and the petals are great in infusions or to add some colour to rice, instead of saffron.
Oregano, thyme and other herbs such as marjoram, have very small leaves, so I dry them on the stems by grouping into bunches and placing them, tips side first, inside paper bags (photo below, left). I close the paper bag around the bottom of the stems, securing with a rubber band (photo below, right):
I snip small openings on the bags with scissors (photo below, left), for air circulation, and hang the bags near a window, but away from moisture (photo below, right):
Once the herbs are dry, I cut the paper bag open, and use the paper as the work surface to process the dry leaves:
I take one stem at a time, and remove the tiny leaves by holding the tip of a stem with my left hand and running the index finger and thumb of my right hand along the stem towards the bottom end, collecting the leaves on the paper bag (photo below, left); once all the leaves are collected, they can be easily transferred for storage by tilting the paper bag over a jar (photo below, right):
I like to keep my dry herbs in labelled glass jars with lids:
The lids are also labelled because I keep the jars in a drawer next to the cooking area, so when I open the drawer I can identify the jars right away; the square shape is very convenient to neatly align the jars. I also store my spices this way.
Wrapping up the harvest and prepping the garden for winter provides some relief from stress during these trying times, as well as some exercise, so hard to get during this pandemic; when all the garden work is done, it will be time to get into the Holiday spirit with zeal, and who knows, maybe even with a callipygian shape as a nice bonus.
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