February officially marks the last month of Summer and reminds us to be prepared for the winter months. After the Summer Solstice, holidays, marking out your little space on that shady part of the beach and trying to keep our gardens watered with precious shower or bath water to keep the parsley from bolting to seed, we need to start considering what is the best thing to collect now that can be frozen, dried, dehydrated, sauced, syruped and fermented in preparation for the colder season that will be upon us before we know it.
On my drying rack, this week is thyme, oregano, lemon balm, olive leaf, bay leaf, sage, peppermint, mint and lavender. The weather has been so dry, so they've been picked on a clear morning after the sun has dried up any dew. Picking them at a time when there is condensation on them leaves the drying plant open to mould. If you still have some of the previous year's dried collection, make up some herbal vinegar or make a mixed herbs selection for your larder. Keep them separate though, as you'll want to use them quickly or at the very least, before the freshly dried.
Once the herbs are dry, lay out some newspaper and place the selected herb on it. Rub them with clean hands removing any stems and put your freshly dried herbs into a labelled jar.
I have all my jars labelled and have them alphabetically (as much as possible anyway) in my herb cupboard. Yes, I have a herb, spice and seed cupboard... and I love them. They are my contribution to the Hygge in my life!! Anyway, I digress....
If you don't have a drying rack or the weather is simply not co-operating, you can dehydrate. Each herb is different, so here's a rough guide for you:
35° - 40° (low) Herbs & Spices
50° (medium) Vegetables & Flowers
55° (Medium) Fruit & Fruit Leathers
60° (high) Meats
Most dehydrators will have a guide for you to download that will include specifications for the machine and some recipes too.
Using the dehydrator means that you can collect a lilttle earlier and not worry about the dew consideration. I usually dry any tender flowers or citrus in the dehydrator (ie: marigold, cammomile & lemon rind) if I only take the flower heads from the plant.
The most use for the dehyydrator is making fruit chips. Our favourite is banana chips/
1 medium bowl of water
1. Cut the lemon and squeeze the juice into the bowl of water
2. Peel banana and slice into even slices
3. Dunk the banana slice into the lemon water
4. Place on your dehydrator rack
5. Set the dehydrator at 55° celcius and dry for 10 hours.
6. Once dry, put them into a glass jar with 1/2 tsp of dry rice. The rice will absorb any
moisture before the banana will.
if you don't have a dehydrator you can bake the banana chips at 120° celcius for 1.5 hours on some baking paper (or they will really stick)- ensure you turn them over halfway through.
If you have berries or seeds that you want to save, you can also dehydrate them.
Have a look at my Elderberry Syrup recipe for more info.
Next week, we'll talk about some summer ferments.