Preserving Herbs & Other Vegetables
When you spend all year pouring your heart into your vegetable garden, the last thing you want is to let any of your precious harvests go to waste. Fortunately, you can preserve the bounty from your garden to keep your pantry stocked with homegrown food through another long Steinbach winter. You can even make it a family tradition to prepare your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with herbs and vegetables you grew in the summer! Here are some of our favourite methods for preserving garden vegetables and herbs.
Methods for Preserving Herbs
Who doesn’t love the satisfaction of snipping off a sprig of fresh basil, parsley, or cilantro from your summer herb planter just before adding it to a dish? Sadly, the season for growing herbs in a Steinbach garden never seems long enough, but the good news is you can make the flavours of your herb garden last long after the frost through all sorts of canning and preserving methods.
The preservation process can even intensify the flavours of some herbs, allowing you to experience your herb garden in a whole new way. Here’s how to preserve fresh herbs using ingredients and equipment you likely already have in your kitchen!
Preserving Herbs by Freezing
Freezing herbs is a quick and simple way to keep a burst of flavour handy! For the most intense flavour, use a food processor or small blender to grind fresh herbs into a paste and use it to fill an ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and store them in a labelled airtight container in the freezer. (Try using chalk markers to label the container with the herb and expiry date!) One cube should be enough to flavour most recipes in the last stages of cooking. This method keeps the herbs tasting fresh for up to 6 months.
Preserving Herbs in Salt
This method lengthens the life of your herbs and leaves you with a ready-to-use seasoning! After washing your herbs, coarsely chop them and add them to a mason jar. For every 4 parts herbs, add 1 part kosher salt. Seal the jar and shake the mixture to combine. Add a scoop of the herbs to add an intense burst of flavour to your recipes. Keep in mind that the salt will come with the herbs, so make sure to adjust your recipe’s salt content accordingly. This method will preserve herbs for up to two months.
Preserving Herbs in Oil
Another trick that requires an ice cube tray. Place a generous pinch of fresh herbs into the compartments of a clean ice cube tray and cover them with extra virgin olive oil. Since the oil can go rancid if kept at room temperature, it’s best to freeze the cubes. The oil will take on the flavour of the herbs and add fabulous flavour and texture to your recipes. This is an especially delightful way of preserving basil for adding to pasta recipes! In the frozen oil, your herbs will stay delicious for 6 to 9 months.
There’s a reason most folks buy their herbs pre-dried! Dry herbs are more potent than fresh herbs and last a long time in the pantry. The herbs that work best for this method are thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and marjoram. The two primary methods for drying herbs are to hang them upside down for several days (which is the slower but more romantic method!) or place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven for 1-4 hours at 150 ̊F. The herbs are ready when the leaves crumble easily. The dried herbs can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year. Store in an opaque container or a dark place to keep them fresh as long as possible! To activate their flavour, rub them between your fingers to grind them up a bit before sprinkling them onto your food.
Vegetable Preservation Methods
If you’re a vegetable gardener, you know how much love goes into every ripe tomato, bulb of garlic, and freshly-pulled carrot. These veggies are worth their weight in gold, so why not keep them fresh to enjoy your riches through the colder months? There are several ways of preserving vegetables that require very little prep and maintain the nutrients and flavours of your harvest. Here’s how to preserve fresh vegetables at home.
Pickling is easy to do and enhances the flavour of your veggies. No wonder it’s such a popular method of preserving vegetables! Pickling is a shorter-term method for preserving veggies but it’s a great choice if you love adding a little zip plus some extra shelf life. The simplest way to pickle is with the “quick pickle” method. Boil 2 cups each of water and vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 3-6 tablespoons of sugar according to taste. In a sterile mason jar, add the veggies you want to quick pickle. Get creative with flavour combinations, as each veggie in the jar will impact the overall taste of the pickle! Pour the pickling liquid into the jar and let stand for 2 hours or until cool. Then, seal the jar and refrigerate. The quick pickles will be ready to add to your charcuterie board in about 8 hours, but they’re much better when prepared at least a day in advance. Keeps veggies fresh up to 3 weeks in the fridge.
Freezing vegetables keeps their flavour well-intact for a longer spell than quick pickling, but the process is a bit more involved than it is with freezing herbs. Before you begin, do a quick search online to ensure the veggies you want to preserve are okay to freeze.
Veggies must be blanched before they can be frozen. Boil water in a large saucepan and, separately, prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl. Use a mesh strainer to hold veggies in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, until the colour intensifies slightly but the veggies are still crisp. Then quickly remove the veggies and plunge into the ice bath. This will suspend the nutrition, flavour, and colour of the veggies from breaking down while frozen. Allow veggies to drip dry or shake them gently to remove excess water, then place them in freezer bags. Store your freshly blanched veggies in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Canning vegetables requires the use of a pressure canner, but it is an extremely effective method for preserving vegetables for longer periods. You’ll need sterile jars for canning, and they’ll need to be kept completely sterile until it’s time to place the vegetables inside. Before canning, fruit veggies should be chopped or segmented and boiled for 5 minutes to cook out any remaining bacteria. When you’re ready to can, follow the pressure canner directions to the letter! If done properly, canned vegetables can remain edible for up to 5 years!
Preserving your herbs and vegetables is an excellent way to enjoy your vegetable garden long after the frost, and here in Steinbach, we’re always in favour of saving ourselves a mid-winter grocery run! With just a little planning, you’ll enjoy some serious cost savings and nutritious, homegrown food all year long.