My garden is overflowing with fresh herbs. How do I store them over the winter?
Isn’t a garden a wonderful thing? Every spring I look forward to lush plants and lots and lots of produce that tastes as wonderful as it should when picked straight from the plant on the day that it reaches full ripeness. Then, when mid to late summer hits all the plants are overflowing with loads of produce. I find I can’t possibly eat or share all of it before that bounty starts to grow blue fuzz. The only remaining option is freezing or canning it for the winter. Actually, that’s the best option. That way, those wonderful summer flavours last all year round. The trick to saving all your hard work is knowing which preserving methods will work with which produce. If you try to freeze those delicate basil leaves, you’ll end up with dry, tasteless leaves. Actually, that’s true with all herbs. So, how do you deal with all of those different elements in your garden? I’ll give you a bit of a run-down for some of the most common fruits and vegetables. Beyond that, do some experimenting yourself to find out what your own favourite preserving methods are.
Delicate Herbs (Basil and Mint) – The best way to preserve the fresh flavour of delicate herbs is to make them into something else. These really don’t preserve their flavour very well when dried. Turn them into pesto, or place them in a jar and pour enough olive oil over them to cover. Then you can freeze the jars, thawing them as needed. Another option is to layer them alternately with kosher salt. Preserved with salt, the jar can be kept on the shelf all year.
Hardier Herbs (Sage, Thyme and Rosemary) – These herbs may be hardier, but they still can’t stand up to the cold temperatures of the freezer. You can preserve them in olive oil or salt as above, but drying them is an inexpensive and quick way to do it, too. Place sprigs of these herbs in brown paper bags. Set the bags in the pantry or on your kitchen counter. Leave them for a couple of weeks. When you go check them, you’ll find that the moisture has evaporated from the leaves and stems leaving dried, yet still flavourful stems. In some cases, the aroma and flavour will be even more intense than when those herbs were fresh.
Tomatoes – There are probably as many ways of preserving tomatoes as there are tomatoes on the vine. Cook them into a basic tomato sauce that can be frozen and seasoning added to it when thawed. Skin and chop them into salsa, pour the mixture into jars and preserve them in boiling water. A quick method is to roll the tomatoes in simmering water for a few seconds, remove their skin, and place them whole in plastic freezer bags. After they’ve frozen, you can pull out as few or as many tomatoes as you need throughout the year.
Zucchini – This one can be tricky. Ideally, I’d love to be able to freeze them whole and pull them out to use as needed. Actually, I did try that one year. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a disaster. The meat of the zucchini basically turned into very mushy water.
Blueberries and Strawberries – Spread these on baking sheets and place them in the freezer. When each has frozen, pour the fruit into plastic freezer bags and dig in at will throughout the winter.