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Preserving the last days of summer
It's September, and the days are shorter, weather more moderate, and the harvest is winding down. It's time to think of the approaching autumn, and prepare for winter's blast. I still have lots to do in the garden, and try to fit in “putting up” some of summer's bounty before it's time to put the beds to sleep. One way to keep fresh herbs for winter use is to make herb pastes, and lay in a good store for use during the cold months.
This is a very simple process, if you have a food processor. If you don't, you can still make herb pastes, but it will be a little tougher. My first batch of basil paste was done in a blender, and it took some doing. I borrowed a food processor for my second batch, and boy, was it easier. You can even make herb paste with a large mortar and pestle, but you'll build up your arm muscles doing that.
You need to have a good supply of herbs. Basil, tarragon, and even parsley work well. These tender herbs do not really dry well, so it's worth it to take the time to make these pastes and store them in your freezer. Strip the leaves off the tough stems, and put them in your food processor. Put aside the stems (and flowering tops, if you have them). We can use them as well, but not for the paste.
Buzz the processor a few times, to get the herbs crushed. Scrape down the sides. Once they have been chopped a little, drizzle a good quality oil over them. Buzz again, adding more oil as needed to make a paste. I usually use extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, but any light flavored oil will work. Once you have the paste, you can put some in small Ziploc bags, or spoon them into ice cube trays (the ones with a cover are best, so they do not pick up flavors from your freezer). If using bags, squeeze out the air and package in a larger bag – labeled. The pastes will all look alike, so be sure you label them.
Now for the stems – since I hate to waste good quality herbs, I took the stems and tops of the Siam Queen basil and put them in a large mouthed jar. I then added champagne vinegar. I will leave this to sit on the windowsill for a few weeks, shaking every day (if I remember!). Then I will strain out the herbs and use the vinegar for salads, adding to soup and stews, etc.
The nights will be getting cooler, and the plants will slow their growth. So, take some time now to harvest and preserve the bounty of summer. You'll be glad you did, in the dark of December!