by Rachel Paxton
Using herbs, whether they be fresh or dried, can greatly improve any dish.
Harvest in the morning of a hot and dry day--wait until the dew is off the plants.
Snip off the top growth--about 6 inches of stem below the flower buds.
If the leaves are clean, don't wash them--oils are lost in the washing process. If they are dusty, wash briefly under cold water.
Shake off excess water and hang the herbs, tied in small bunches, in the sun until the water evaporates.
Hang the bunches (upside down) in a warm, dry place that is well ventilated and free from strong light. To prevent dust from accumulating, put them in a brown paper bag that you've punched some holes in to increase circulation.
If you don't hang them up, remove the stems and dry them on baking sheets, window screens covered with clear sheeting or cheesecloth, or even on a towel.
You can also dry herbs in a food dryer. For the best flavor, the temperature in the dryer should stay under 105 degrees F.
Leaves may be crushed before they are stored away, but they retain their oils better if they are kept whole and crushed right before they are used.
Herbs should be stored in a cool place, out of strong light, either in dark glass jars, in tins, or (in a) cabinet. It's best to throw them out after a year and restock with new ones.
Blanch herbs before freezing them. Hold them by their stems with tongs and dip them in boiling water briefly, swishing them around a little. When their color brightens, remove them from the water. Blot dry with towels. Remove the stems, chop if you wish, or leave the leaves whole. Lay the dried herbs out in a single layer on wax paper and roll or fold the paper so there is a layer of paper separating each layer of herbs. Then pack, paper and all, in freezer bags or wrap in freezer-rated plastic wrap. To use, break off as much as you need and use frozen. You can also thaw them out in the refrigerator--they will keep for about a week.
You can freeze individual portions of herbs by making ice cubes out of them. Prepare your herbs by removing the stems and chopping, and then pack them into ice cube trays. Cover with boiling water (to blanch them) and freeze. When frozen, remove the cubes from the trays and store in freezer bags.
Copyright © 1999 Rachel Paxton. Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of the Creative Homemaking Recipe of the Week Club Cookbook, a cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas.