Friday, July 27, 2007

Drying Herbs

We have an awesome overabundance of basil and oregano in the garden. I have been pinching back the flowers to keep them from going to seed, but they have been getting more and more persistant with their desire to flower, so I decided it was time to harvest and preserve them. We have been trying to use them in every day cooking, but you can only use so many herbs, and we have a ton of them!

Here are the four kinds of basil we started from seed in late March. There is lemon, large leaf, red rubin and marseille. The seeds are from Park's culinary basil collection.

basil_garden_6_28_2007

I decided to dry them using a method I read about in one of my gardening books. Basically, you put them in the oven on a wire rack on very very low heat (like 80 degrees farenheit) for 24 hours or until they look completely dried out. If you can smell them cooking, the heat is too high. So I went about doing this only to find that my oven only goes down to 120 degrees, and they were baking at this temperature.

Here is the basil all spread out on a wire rack.

drying_basil_7_2007

Next I tried the microwave method outlined in my book, but that was a real pain! To dry herbs in the microwave, you sandwich the herbs between two paper towels and put them, along with a mug of water, in the microwave on 50% power for about 2 minutes. You have to keep checking their progress and adding more time. There are several problems with this method. First, my microwave resets itself to 100% every time it finishes, and I kept forgetting to set it back to 50%, thereby scorching the herbs. Second, you cannot dry many herbs at a time, because they cannot be touching each other on the paper towel, and you get really sick of hearing the microwave timer ding. This method was not my favorite.

Finally I remembered that we have a Ronco dehydrator stowed away somewhere in a forgotten closet! Duh! We bought it many years ago at a garage sale when we still lived in Mobile. It has only been used once, because attempting to dehydrate things in the thick humidity of Mobile is really quite futile.

Here are the herbs spread out on one of the trays of the dehydrator. Some of them are already mostly dehydrated from their drying attempts in the oven and microwave.

basil_ronco_dehydrator_7_2007_b

Here is a shot of the dehydrator at work. It really did a great job drying the herbs.

basil_ronco_dehydrator_7_2007_a

I don't know what we'll do with all this oregano! I guess we're going to be making a lot of spaghetti sauce!

dried_oregano_jar_7_2007

And a ton of large leaf basil.

dried_basil_jar_7_2007

I also dried some lemon basil, but I guess I did it after the photo shoot.

We still have a lot of herbs out there waiting to be preserved. We made some pesto and froze it a couple nights ago. I'll have to get some pictures of the pesto cubes, because they're pretty cool.

I found this cute little wooly worm on one of the basil leaves.

basil_wooly_worm

I know he's munching away and trying to kill all my plants, but he's just so cute! I released him onto some liriope that I don't much care for. He can eat all of it he wants!

I also found some unsettling eggs on the underside of one of the leaves that caused me to have to check every friggin' leaf on each stem. Eek! I don't want to accidentally dry these guys and end up with them in my dinner. They're still pretty cool, even though they do freak me out...

basil_eggs_7_2007

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