18 months ago, Juls and I bought our first home. After years of living in apartments we finally had a house that we could change as we pleased and more importantly, approximately 400 square metres of garden to turn into the ultimate veggie patch. We’ve been working on both pretty steadily, perhaps the garden even more so than the house.
One of the first things we did outdoors was plant a plethora of herbs. Rosemary, thyme, sage, chives, parsley, mint and more. A year and a half on they are thriving and I’ve got more than I could ever possibly use. My thoughts soon turned to preservation and filling a few more of those red and white checkered jam jars come herb & spice jars.
Drying herbs is simple and straight forward. The best season to do so is just as the plant begins to flower. At this time the plant has reached full bloom and the flavour will be at its peak. There are two main methods for drying herbs.
1. Air-dried – poke a few air holes in a paper bag. Tie a small bunch of herbs together by their stalks and hang them upside down inside the bag. Hang them somewhere indoors, not in direct sunlight and nowhere too humid. Wait a week or so and ta-dah. Dried herbs. You’ll know they’re ready when you rub them between your fingers and they crackle.
2. Oven dried – line a baking tray with baking paper and spread out the herbs in a very thin layer. Too thick and they won’t dry evenly. Pop in the oven at the lowest possible temperature, no more than 50ºC and leave the door slightly ajar to let excess moisture escape. When the hour is up check them. They may need more time. Ovens and herbs both vary so much making the timing here a very imprecise science. As above, the herbs are dry and ready when they crackle whilst rubbed between your fingers.
My preference is the air-dried method. Yes it requires more patience but the herbs dry more evenly and there is no risk of forgetting them and discovering a tray of baked herbs. I did find oven dried herbs more fragrant, almost overpoweringly so. The smell of rosemary wafted in my kitchen for days. Some might see that as a bonus.
Fresh herbs no doubt add greater flavour to a dish, but there are instances when dried herbs come in mighty handy. Drying prolongs the availability of herbs with short seasons or those that go to seed quickly. They’re fab for those cold and wet winter nights when braving the outdoors is unfathomable and for those rushed dinners when we’re frankly to busy or lazy to get outside. Best of all, dried herbs can save the day when your too cash strapped to buy Christmas gifts for all your foodie friends.