SUMMER! Sunshine, lush growth, picnics, gathering with friends and family, good food… Good food flavored with fine herbs, whether out of a jar or from your own garden makes those gatherings a memorable occasion. Last year I started a practice that I'd like to share with you, especially if you have a leaning toward the serendipitous (n. the faculty of making happy discoveries by accident). If interested, read on...
Although I love special herb mixes found in our local shops, especially Herbes de Provence that shouts the fragrance of the sun-sizzled herbs from southern France, I was shocked to find that I could replicate such mixes from my own garden--OR I could carry it a step further by mixing my own, ever-changing mixes from my own garden. Hence, "happy discoveries" all summer long!
Herbs are so easy to grow, so forgiving, that they can grow without a lot of babying; in fact, they do not like rich soil and actually produce their strongest oils with little water. Picture the dry, hot, rocky/sandy hills of Provence where many of these herbs are "at home". You need not have a large garden either, for they thrive in pots of all shapes and sizes, even olive oil cans (drill holes in the bottom), or wooden boxes.
I've learned that herbs love to co-mingle, and so I can get greater mileage out of my pots by allowing these herbs to "socialize".
Some are found in pots, and because I happened to find an empty piece of ground nearby, I allowed this nice spearmint to range about and grow toward the chocolate mint hanging out in the pot. After all, they ARE cousins!
Thankfully my herbs are found just steps from the kitchen door, so I grab my scissors, decide which ones look healthy and might be interesting in an herb mix, and clip away. Even after a strong rain in the night, I bring them inside and give them a good wash, aware there may still be buggies lurking…
I then fold paper towels over the herbs to get as much moisture from them as possible--this becomes part of the drying process.
A couple years ago, when we were at the coast with our daughter, I purchased from Mossy Creek Pottery the perfect-sized shallow dish to put the chopped herbs in. The shallowness of the bowl allows the air to get to the herbs and dry them faster.
Today I found a good selection of herbs: lemon thyme, chives, lavender flowers, spearmint, chocolate mint, orange mint, sage, rosemary (go easy on this very pungent herb), golden oregano, parsley, lemon balm…I now strip the leaves from the stems, place them on the block and use the guillotine (or a knife on a cutting board) to chop them into fine pieces. Hint: cut up your herbs in small amounts, otherwise they won't dry properly unless you lay them out in a thin layer, like in a pie plate.
Here's what they'll look like when finished. Toss lightly with your fingers…then smell your fingers: Oooh la la!
Place your bowl of fine herbs next to your stove. Several times a day (or every time you walk by them) toss again to quicken the drying time. Take the time to inhale the smells that are in the process of "marrying"; it will make you so very happy.
You will be surprised how quickly they become dry and crisp; at that stage, rub them between your fingers while you add them to omelets, soups, stews, any dish that calls for A LITTLE DASH OF SERENDIPITY!
Happy Note: As summer advances the increasing heat will bring out more and more of the marvelous fragrant oils in your herbs--it only gets better!