Watching the days draw in and saying goodbye to the gorgeous gardens of summer can be bittersweet. While you can't keep bountiful outdoor herb gardens going all winter, you can use some basic DIY herb drying and storing techniques to savor the flavors of summer during the chilly months ahead. What I love about summer cooking is walking onto my back deck and snipping fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and sage for my dishes. Since my herbs have been growing outside and I live in Chicago, they are not long for this world in their current state. So, for the past few years I've been taking matters into my own hands and drying them for use throughout the winter. A couple benefits of drying my own herbs are that I don't have to buy many store-bought dried herbs and I know that my herbs are pesticide free.
For DIY dried herbs, simply do the following.
1. Harvest your herbs. Make sure you cut herbs in the morning, before the heat of the afternoon sun wilts the leaves.
2. Tie bundles of herbs together at the stems, using thin twine or ribbon.
3. Hang your bundles to dry in a cool, dark place. I hang dry my herbs in a utility closet. Hang drying takes a week to a few weeks, depending on the moisture level of the herbs and moisture levels in the air. Check on your herbs every few days, and once they are dry and crumbly to the touch, remove any twigs or sticks and crush the leaves (you can use a fine sieve for this too).
4. Store your dried herbs in small glass jars with tight fitting lids or corks. I found some great vintage spice jars at Brimfield, a local vintage shop in Chicago. Any type of vintage or repurposed glass jar would work well for herb storage in addition to adding some great character to your kitchen.
• Preserving Your Herbs: Choosing The Best Spice Jars
• Found: Hanging Trellis Herb Garden
(Images: Julia Brenner)