Thursday, August 12, 2010

Drying Herbs

This is our first year in our new house and it's my first year to enjoy my expansive herb garden. I am experiencing a bounty of fresh herbs and plan to start the drying process this week. Here is my game plan:

1. Wash your cut herb leaves and stems. Let herbs "drip dry" in a colander or mesh wire basket.
2. "Spin out" water by wrapping wet herbs in dish cloth and making big, bold arm circles (this is best performed outside because water will fly out due to centrifugal force).
3. Place herbs in a safe spot where water can fully evaporate. Evaporation may be hastened by exposing the herbs to a breeze in a shallow, loose basket, or a wire tray. Personally, my favorite method is to place the herbs loosely upon newspaper, inside my house, but near an open screened window. Bonus points if it's a sunny window.
4. Flip/turn herbs daily until all water is fully evaporated. For small batches, the ole tie the herbs in a bunch and hang upside down may be the easiest method. However, make sure most of the water is gone before bunching herbs together.
5. Keep turning herbs until all delicate parts are "crispy."
6. Now for storage. There are two options: 1) store as is, twigs and all or 2) crumble by hand and separate leaves from twigs, storing only the fragrant leaves.
7. Store in an airtight container. My easy method includes clean glass jars looking for a new life: old pickle jars, salsa jars, mayo jars, etc. However, if you use this method, make sure the jars are extremely clean and dry. You will likely want to wash the jar, air it out for a few days, wash it again and then dry. If the jar is not fully and truly clean, your dried thyme will taste like stale dill pickles - no one wants stall dill pickle thyme seasoning.
8. Note: if your herbs are not honestly dry, you will end up with mold in your dried herbs. Consequently, I wait until I think my herbs are dry beyond all dryness and then let them dry another three days.
9. Store in a cool, dry place. I put mine in the pantry or basement.
10. Have extra herbs? Dry some for friends and give home-dried herbs as a hostess gift. You'll be the prize of the party!

Sage advice from [pun completely intended]:

The practice of storing powdered herbs in paper or pasteboard packages is bad, since the delicate oils readily diffuse through the paper and sooner or later the material becomes as valueless for flavoring purposes as ordinary hay or straw. This loss of flavor is particularly noticeable with sage, which is one of the easiest herbs to spoil by bad management. Even when kept in air-tight glass or tin receptacles, as recommended, sage generally becomes useless before the end of two years.

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