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Harvest herbs now for flavorful winter treats

South Boston News
Late summer is a great time to harvest herbs such as oregano, Origanum vulgare. / August 27, 2010
The Herbs Are Growing Like Crazy! What Do I Do Now? Harvest! Read on and I will tell you how.

I pick a couple of handfuls of Basil, a few sprigs of Marjoram and Dill and I’m off to work with delicious additions to the salad I usually have every day for lunch. There is nothing like freshly picked herbs to enhance a sandwich, salad or soup. Right now my garden is producing large quantities of lovely herbs that can delight and titillate any palate for more. When I get home and it’s time to make dinner, I look around the yard to see what I want to use to brighten my meats and vegetables.

What fun it is to experiment with herbs and discover the joys of the savory flavors these wonders of nature produce.

Of course you can look at many cookbooks and find a host of recipes which include cooking with herbs. The method of my madness though prompts me to go pick herbs and go to my “lab” (the kitchen) and see what I can come up with; I love, love, love egg salad with fresh dill, chicken sautéed with a small sprig of rosemary under each buttery fillet, pork baked on a bed of sage, potatoes with a ton of parsley or chives, pasta with fresh basil pesto!

Goodness! My mouth is watering just writing about it! The list is endless and the rewards are fabulous.

My heart aches not having those wonderful just picked summer flavors all year long, although quite a few of the hardy perennial herbs such as parsley, chives, and rosemary, can be picked and used during the cooler months of the year also.

Drying and freezing herbs are great ways to preserve them to use after the growing season is long gone and summer time is just the time to start that process.

Oregano is an herb that can be vicious in its growth, so cutting it back in summer to dry for winter works great. I just gather big bunches, wash and dry them, and to keep them dust free, wrap them in either newspaper, or stick their heads down in a paper bag.

Wrap a rubber band around the cut ends of the herbs together with the paper, then hang upside down (I put them in my pantry) and they will dry in no time. They are ready when they are crispy like potato chips. This method also works for thyme, sage, tarragon and savory. There are some very nice containers you can purchase to store your dried herbs or just use some recycled ones like I do, but keep them out of the sun and away from the heat of the stove, or they will quickly lose their flavor.

Another herb you may want to dry is marjoram, but I like to dig it up just before frost and put it in a pot to bring inside and put on a sunny window ledge for the winter. There is nothing better than fresh marjoram.

If you like basil as much as I do, you can make batches of pesto and freeze in ice cube trays.

After they are frozen you can pop them in a zip lock bags for handy access. Grab a few for quick and delicious additions to your pasta sauce or a couple of cubes do well to thaw and slather on a warm piece of crusty bread with grated parmesan cheese on top.

That surely brings back the taste of those fresh picked summer herbs I crave in the dead of winter. Some herbs, like chives and parsley, are best chopped and frozen in small plastic baggies to use as needed for hearty winter soups or stews.

My favorite thing to do with herbs is to take advantage of them at their peak in flavor during the summer growing season.

Give them lots of sun, a well-drained bed of earth in which to grow, a little food and lots of love, and you will be rewarded tenfold to say the least. Do not be afraid! Go to your “lab” and experiment with some recipes or make it up as you go, but add some herbs to your life. I don’t think you will regret it.

Here is a classic basil recipe adapted from the Washington Farmers’ Market. It is reminiscent of the fresh sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. For best results when freezing this pesto, omit the cheese and add it later when the pesto is ready to be used.

Classic Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed

1/3 cup pine nuts

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (if freezing, add when you are ready to use the pesto)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine the first four ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil to create a fine paste. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately or freeze in ice cube trays.

The Southside Virginia Herb Society is a group of local enthusiasts interested in learning and sharing knowledge of gardening, crafting and cooking with herbs. Members come from Halifax, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties.

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