Summer Herbs for Winter Use

Black Swallowtail caterpillars feasting on dill
Black Swallowtail caterpillars feasting on dill

A while back, I wrote a post about what to do when you have Basil in Abundance.  One of the suggestions is to make pesto and freeze it in ice-cube trays, pop out the cubes and store them in bags in the freezer for later use.  Not too long ago, I was watching TV and a commercial came on for a wonderful new product to help home cooks speed up dinner making by combining butter, olive oil, spices, and herbs.  We’ve been doing something similar for years: making what is called compound butters and freezing them in little balls or the cubes of ice-cube trays,  preserving herbs of summer for winter use.  While many of the green leafy herbs discolored (they turn dark), the flavor was excellent.  I am not going to say that they all tasted like we just picked them, because they didn’t, but they did taste more summery than dried herbs.  As mid-August approaches, many of the annual herbs are going begin their decline.  Before the summer herbs completely bite the dust, go cut them down and salvage as much as you can.  Here are some of our best combinations:

Cilantro: Make a “pesto” of cilantro leaves and stems, black pepper corns, garlic, toasted sesame oil, and salt to taste.  Freeze in ice-cube trays.

Dill: Snip the feathery dill leaves and mix with butter and salt.  Using a melon-baller, make little balls to freeze.

Oregano:  Pull the tiny leaves from the stems and add to ice-cube trays 1/2 filled with olive oil.  Freeze.

Tarragon:  Combine equal parts butter and olive oil in a bowl.  Add torn tarragon leaves and mix thoroughly.  Chill overnight.  Using a melon-baller, make little balls to freeze.

We also did some mixes, like cilantro and oregano, frozen in a neutral oil, like avocado, and oregano and basil frozen in olive oil.

Zucchini and Summer Squash

Summer squash I found in my car upon arriving home from the CSA
Summer squash I found in my car upon arriving home from the CSA

Are they coming in like crazy, those zucchini and summer squash?  The farm manager at the CSA was sneaking extra squash into people’s bags.  I got home and found a Lil’ Slugger in my bag as well.  I don’t remember him putting it in there, so he must have had one of the apprentices distracting me!  Even the CSA manager has to revert to subversive measures to unload the zucchini!

The bottom line is that there is only so much zucchini bread we can eat, right?  And if we have grilled zucchini planks with dinner every night, what about all of the other great veggies (like the green beans!!)?

Here’s an easy preservation method for zucchini and summer squash:

I break out the food processor for this one, because I am generally talking about large quantities of summer squash!  If they are large, cut them lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.  I usually use a grapefruit spoon for this.  (I feed the seeds to the chickens, so I don’t end up with zucchini growing in my compost pile!) Cut the zucchini so it will fit in the processor’s feed tube and grate the squash.

Summer squash cut lengthwise
Summer squash cut lengthwise

Line a cookie sheet with a flour-sack towel, or a piece of old cotton sheet (I have cut several to fit for this purpose).  Spread the shredded zucchini onto the lined cookie sheet.  Lightly salt the squash and let it sit for about 15-20 minutes.  Roll it up in the cloth and squeeze out the excess water. Pack in zipper freezer bags, by 2 cups worth (Most of my recipes call for 2 C of grated zucchini).  Press the bags flat and lay flat in the freezer until they are frozen. When you want to make a delicious meal, like Faux Crab Cakes (below), just take out a bag of frozen zucchini shreds, and defrost them.

Faux Crab Cakes

  • 2 C shredded zucchini or summer squash
  • 2 C Bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T mayonnaise
  • 1 T of Seafood Seasoning Mix (see below)

Mix everything together and form into patties.  Fry in a pan, about 5 minutes a side, until golden.  Serve hot.  If you have any left, they are really great under a poached egg and covered in hollandaise sauce, or much simpler, on a bun with a lettuce leaf!

“Aged Inlet” Seafood Seasoning Mix

In a spice grinder (we have a dedicated old coffee grinder for this purpose), place the following:

  • 3 crushed bay leaves
  • 1 T celery seeds
  • 1 T dry mustard
  • 2 t ginger
  • 2 t smoked paprika (use regular if you don’t have smoked)
  • 10-15 scrapes of nutmeg (or 1/4 t ground)
  • 1 1/2 t whole allspice
  • 1 1/2 t whole cloves
  • 1/2 t mace
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 1 T salt
  • 2 t black pappercorns
  • 1 t white peppercorns

Grind it all up until it is a powder.  This may take a little tapping and stirring between grinds.  Store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

Jamming

Jam and jelly was always a preservation area that alluded me.  Admittedly, I didn’t put much effort into it, because my mother-in-law is a jammer, extraordinaire.  She showed up every year at Christmas time with a trunk full of strawberry jam, and raspberry jam, and peach preserves.  But my own history of jams that didn’t set up is really what made me stop trying.

A couple of years ago, my husband encouraged me to make Sweet Tomato Jam.  He found the recipe in one of his cookbooks and it sounded good to him.  Honestly, it sounded disgusting to me, but I made it anyway because it was one of those years we had tomatoes coming out of our ears — I had quite a few volunteer cherry tomato plants come up and they were very prolific, so I adapted the recipe to use up the excess.

Well, it didn’t set up.  I was dejected, and all “I told you I can’t make jam.”  But rather than waste these jars of jam, I called my mother-in-law and she encouraged me to re-cook the jam with some pectin and talked me through the process.  It worked!  And the resulting jam was really tasty!  On a whim, I added it to my entries for the Middletown Grange Fair and it was judged a Best in Show (in a four way, with three other jams)!  Lesson learned: if it doesn’t set up on the first try, cook it again.  Oh, and trust my husband’s ability to judge a recipe.

This year I have made all sorts of jams and jellies, from combination berry to an unusual cilantro-garlic jelly.  I think it is a condiment that will pair nicely with grilled fish, chicken or pork.

Cilantro-Garlic Jelly

  • 1 C cilantro, chopped, including stems
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 t black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 hot pepper, sliced
  • 3 C boiling water
  • the juice of two limes, strained
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 T powdered pectin
  1. Combine cilantro, garlic, peppercorns and hot pepper in a heat-proof bowl and cover with 3 1/2 C of boiling water.  Cover the bowl and let steep over night.
  2. The next morning, strain through butter muslin (or a piece of an old sheet) in a fine sieve. Do not press.
  3. Mix the pectin with 1/2 C sugar and set aside.
  4. Measure 3 cups into a medium pot, along with the lime juice.  Add the sugar pectin mixture.  Bring to a boil.
  5. Add the remaining 1 1/2 C of the sugar and bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute.
  6. Remove from the heat and let rest for 4 minutes.  Skim foam.  Pour into sterile canning jars and process.

A special thanks to Angela Mazur who caught a MAJOR error in this post, that has now been revised!