"No bought potpourri is so pleasant as that made from one's garden, for the petals of the flowers one has gathered at home hold the sunshine and memories of summer, and of past summers only the sunny days should be remembered." Eleanor Sinclair Rohde
July - jubilant, juicy and jolly! Now is the time to really start enjoying the garden, and slow down to savor the summer. Harvesting of herbs, flowers and vegetables is a daily occurrence, resulting in a sometimes overabundance of bountiful flora. Now, what do we do with it all?
Potpourri, as Eleanor Sinclair Rhode suggests, is a way to remember the scents of the season and save your harvest of fragrant herbs. Some of you may be familiar with "putting up" of fruits and vegetables, whether it be by canning, freezing, or creating jams, jellies, conserves and the like. If you want to spend less time in the kitchen, but still preserve those delightful, fragrant herbs, you can try some of the following easy methods.
One way to enjoy your herbs is to make an herbal syrup. This is almost as easy as making tea. One syrup I make each year is mint syrup, as my daughter has found that she absolutely loves to use it in her morning coffee. You can also use it as a sweetener for regular black tea (hot or iced), or you can thicken it further and use it as a dressing for a fruit salad, or pour it over pond cake or ice cream. The great thing is you can make it to your taste - either very sweet or light in sweetness. To make a simple syrup, combine water and sugar in a pot until just boiling. The ratio of sugar to water can be:
one cup sugar to two cups water (light sweetness)
two cups of sugar to two cups of water (regular sweetness)
three cups sugar to two cups water (very sweet)
Remove the syrup from the heat and add as many mint leaves as will fit in the pan (one to two cups). I use a combination of mints, which seems to round out the flavor. Try spearmint, peppermint, mountain mint and others you might have. Let the syrup stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain and re-bottle.
You can also make herbal syrups with any fragrant, sweet herb, such as cinnamon basil, lavender, etc. The syrup will keep a week or two in the fridge (sometimes longer) but it is best to freeze small portions so you can have a supply longer.
Basil is one herb that is definitely better fresh than dried. You can make pesto, or you can try making an easy herbal vinegar to get you out of the kitchen in the heat of the summer. Use good quality white distilled vinegar, or if you can get it, white wine vinegar. Pour the vinegar into a large mouthed jar (such as a canning jar) and add fresh basil, as much as you can fit and still have it submerged. Some recipes call for heating the vinegar, but I have found it works just as well if you set the jar (covered looosely) in the sun outside for 2-3 weeks. If you grow a purple type basil, the vinegar will turn a delightful pink color. Strain the herbs and re-bottle. You can find nice, decorative jars at discount stores or thrift shops, and you will have the makings of a lovely, homemade holiday gift.
Another good way to use fresh herbs is to make herbal butters. Use sweet butter (not salted) and set it out in a bowl to soften. In the heat we've been having, this doesn't take very long! Chop your herbs finely, and add to the butter. Blend well. Use approximately 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs to one stick of butter. Again, use as much as tastes good to you. You can pack the butter into small containers and freeze - it should be good for at least 6 months. Good combinations to try are parsley, lemon thyme and lemon balm (good on hot rolls) or dill, chives and salad burnet (great when baking fish).
If youo'd like to see these types of herbal products demonstrated, as well as sample some and take some home, join us for a workshop on July 24 or 28. (See workshop section). We will be sharing ways to preserve your herbal harvest, and we will also be tasting some of the herbal liqueurs I made last summer (over 21 only, please!)
Stay cool, enjoy your summer and do a rain dance (we really need some moisture),
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