THE CULINARY CORNER

Drying, preserving and storing herbs

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Welcome to my little corner of culinary delights.  Along the way, I have stated the importance of herbs, spices and seasonings in cooking, roasting, baking and cold dishes.  I gave an article on how best to simmer spaghetti sauce in order to preserve the flavor of the herbs.  I also wrote articles in how to judge the amount of herbs to use and which kinds.  I also emphasized the need to grow your own in order to have an inexpensive supply of fresh herbs on hand year around.  However, I neglected to teach how to dry and preserve herbs.  I will now rectify that.

In a grocery store, you may find fresh herbs, such as mint, thyme and oregano, packaged in plastic under refrigeration.  However, you will generally find the parsley and cilantro in bunches with their stims in water also under refrigeration.  This latter method keeps them for a short time simply to make it easier to handle and sale.  All fresh herbs are best stored in a sealed plastic bag with plenty of air and kept under refrigeration.  Being sealed in a bag, they will remain fresh for several days.  To preserve fresh herbs, one must work fast.  The moment the stim is cut, the cutting begins to wilt.  Enzymes and other factors quickly begins the decomposition.  The drying process to preserve them must begin immediately.  But the drying process must be gradual.  Otherwise, the essential oils are lost and the flavor compromised.  Therefore, a conventional oven should not be used.  Using a microwave oven will not affect the flavor, but it will reduce the herb’s therapeutic properties.

To dry leaves, one needs to find a warm dark place with good ventilation such as a shed, barn, enclosed back porch or even an attic.  Temperatures should be between 90°F to 75°F.  Cooler temperatures retard the drying process.

Washing the leaves is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.  Wipe them clean is best.  Tie no more than ten stems to a bunch and hang upside down.  Keep the bundles loose and spread out.  Air needs to circulate around them to dry properly.  It takes from four days to two weeks depending on the density of the leaves and ambient temperatures and humidity.  They are sufficiently dried if the leaves feel dry as paper but not too brittle.

Drying flowers is done in the same fashion.  But give care to the structure of their petals.  Small headed flowers, such as chamomile, should be stored whole.  Your larger petals should be removed from the stim and stored flat.

Roots need drying temperatures between 120°F to 140°F.  This is due to their density and size.  Your larger roots should be split long ways and even cut into shorter pieces.  In this case, a conventional oven may be used.  Turn them periodically as they dry.  Some roots, such as marshmallow, need to be peeled first.  Store herbs and roots in air tight containers in a dark place.

Until next time, peace to all.