Preserve your herbs and use them all year

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A soft whirring has accompanied any and all guests in my kitchen over the last month. It's my food dehydrator, and for yet another year, it's earning its keep by drying out every last herb in my garden.

Readers of this column may already know that I rank the harvest season No. 1 of all seasons. As hikers climb Mount Greylock to get a good look at the foliage, bagged and labeled produce climbs the walls of my freezer, canned apple butter is replenished and a year's worth of garden herbs are dried.

If you have tons of thyme, reams of rosemary or copious chives, this column is for you. Instead of over-seasoning a chicken with lots of herbs before the ground is frozen, dry them using one of these several tried-and-true methods. We have been blessed with a mild October, so you have plenty of time to clip your excess herbs and get going.

I've tried all of these through the years, and they all work really well, though the dehydrator is my favorite because you can set it and forget it, and there is almost no risk of mold or overdrying. I'm still using 2018 oregano in my cooking!

FOOD DEHYDRATOR

This is the simplest possible method. Pick your herbs, sort through them and remove any dead leaves, slugs, aphids, etc., give them a rinse in the sink, and then layer two handfuls at a time in the dehydrator. Don't worry about overlapping leaves, since everything will shrink as it dries.

My dehydrator instruction manual recommends 95 F to dry herbs, but I usually run it at 115 to 125 degrees to cut down on time. Your herbs will dry in 2 to 3 days; fleshier herbs, like Cuban oregano, will take longer.

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Once herbs are dry, store them in your pantry or out of direct light in airtight freezer bags or any airtight jar. Don't pre-crumble herbs. Leave them on their stems in your storage container, or you risk them losing a lot of flavor.

IN THE OVEN

Pick your herbs as described in the dehydrator method above, then rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay them out on a rimmed baking sheet and preheat your oven to 175 to 180 degrees.

Once the oven is heated, put your cookie sheet on the center rack and cook 2 to 4 hours, checking every half-hour or so. Depending on how your oven runs, your herbs will probably dry within four hours, but be attentive so you don't accidentally burn them to a crisp! Store as described in the dehydration method.

PAPER BAGS/TIED BUNCHES

When you cut herbs in your garden, be mindful and leave long stems for this method. Pick through for bugs and dead leaves, but don't wash them this time.

Tie a dozen or so herb sprigs (of the same variety) together with twine or a rubber band, then pop a paper bag over the leafy end, securing it closed around the stems with more twine or another rubber band.

Hang your herb bags (also sort of a fall decoration!) in a sunny window for a week, then remove the paper bag and check dryness. You'll probably be all set, but you may need a few more days depending on how much sun you get and the moisture level of the herbs. This method is best for low-moisture herbs, like rosemary and traditional oregano; basil, mint, and other fat-leaved herbs contain more moisture and won't dry out as easily this way.


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