Sweet and Savory Memories
The garden is wrapped up for another year. We dug up the rosemary plant in an attempt to transplant and grow it in my unheated, glassed-in porch that faces south east. I’ve never had success with growing rosemary indoors, but this time may be the winner. If not, I’ll dry the needles for using this winter.
We cut back the thyme and are drying it on paper towels indoors, removing the leaves once they’re dry. But what to do with basil, parsley and other delicate-leafed herbs?
Cris Spindler, owner of Peconic River Herb Farm in Calverton, New York, has the answers!
Basil is best preserved in pesto, she says. Put it in a blender with garlic, Romano or Parmesan cheese, walnuts or pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil. Then freeze it in ice cube trays or little deli take-out cups with lids. You can get them at a party goods store.
For strong, tough-leafed plants such as rosemary, sage and oregano, drying is the best way to preserve them. Rosemary doesn’t do well indoors, she assures me, because there is no direct light indoors and it belongs outside, so once its leaves are crispy, dig it up. She recommends growing just enough rosemary to get you through winter.
Sage doesn’t like the cold, wet winter. It’s best to harvest when lush and nice. Some marjoram is cold hardy and dries fairly successfully.
Chives dry somewhat successfully, she says, but its tender leaves lose their flavor when dry, as do tarragon, parsley and basil. They are all better used in pesto or vinegar. Or make herb salt: Combine fresh herbs and sea salt, lay the combo out and let it dry. Chop and blend the herbs with sea salt and lay on a cookie sheet in a dry place such as an oven with just a pilot light.
What to do with my Hungarian paprika chiles and cayenne peppers? Chiles dry laid out in the air in the kitchen, Cris says, or string them up using a large-eyed needle with fishing line right through the stem. This is called a “ristra.” Dried whole chiles turn brick red; black spots might be mold. Dry them whole or, if large or thick, split them open to let warm air circulate through, then, when dry, grind them up and store as chile powder.
I planted garlic this fall for my friend Ursula. Some of the Spanish Roja and White German hard neck cloves came off the head without skin on them, so I was reluctant to plant them, thinking they would rot. I later learned that growers plant the naked cloves anyway. But Ursula had given me the garlic. Now what?
Cris suggested a mix of garlic, ginger root and lemongrass – roughly equal parts but a little heavy on the lemongrass. I cut the lemongrass in half-inch pieces and pounded them with a hammer, then tossed all in a blender, then froze as pesto.
“It ends up being a super flavorful addition to anything,” says Cris who makes and sells her own herb blends. “Just pop it out still frozen and use it.”
Julian and I made lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner. Julian made the sauce and cooked the pasta; I mixed the ricotta using Italian parsley picked from our garden that morning – the last of the fresh herbs. The parsley, especially, will be missed.
Though many tomatoes rotted before they ripened, and squirrels literally ripped off the sunflower heads, we enjoyed the fresh rosemary, peppermint, thyme, Italian parsley and Thai and Genovese basil. The Tasmanian chocolate and Pompeii tomatoes were superb - better than the heirloom Pineapple, which grew slightly healthier than Cherokee Purple or Old German. Hungarian paprika peppers and cayenne thrived (some cayenne and Thai basil self-seeded from last year). Beets were pretty and delicious and marigolds shone. French red leaf lettuce and Black-seeded Simpson couldn't have been better as well as the kale that grew in the ammo box on the porch, while thunbergia on the lattice out-flowered and ran rampant over the runner beans. And the Orgegon Giant peas were deliciously sweet raw - the way to eat peas!
Our little 8-foot square garden and several pots of surprises and pleasures brought much joy and dinner.
by Mary Jasch
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