After the harvest

So you’ve come home with a basket full of berries, or roots, or fungi. What do you do with them? Unless you’re going to use them straight away (see ‘Making herb teas’), you’ll need to preserve them somehow. Some things can be frozen, but the usual next step is to dry them. If it’s done both gently and quickly, you’ll end up with herbs that will keep for at least a year, ready to use when you want them.

A word of warning: there are lots of ways to dry herbs badly! Spreading them out in the sun tends to rob them of their essential oils, bleaches the colour out and leaves them at the mercy of insects. Hanging them in bunches above the Aga may look pretty, but grease will stick to them, bits will fall off, and again the light will do its work. The best home solution is to spread them on cloth or paper on mesh trays, and put them somewhere dark, where there is air flow and a constant gentle warmth. An open airing cupboard is ideal if you have an old-fashioned boiler. Roots and larger pieces will need chopping up before drying. In two or three days your herbs should be ready to store in brown paper bags or old-fashioned tea caddies; something that lets moisture escape and keeps light out.

If you’re planning to do a lot of drying, it’s worth setting up a proper drying cabinet. This is a cupboard with cloth or fine mesh shelves, and vents at the top and bottom to allow air to move through. In the bottom is a light bulb, which causes a gentle flow of air and maintains an even temperature. You can dry fruit as well as herbs in it, and you’ll get top quality produce that will keep its potency until you need it.

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