Updated: Jul 17
This is the perfect time to plan for the rest of the year. To make certain you have all the spice you need.
The best way to ensure you have what you need is to plant your own herbs now. There is nothing better than fresh herbs but what happens when the growing season is over. So how do you have those great flavors all year long?
Herbs are very easy to grow especially if you have a garden, a deck, or a terrace. If not, a windowsill will do. The one thing you must have is sunshine.
If all you have is shade, don’t despair. Shop your farmer’s market and buy the herbs you need.
To start, buy your herbs in small pots from nurseries. If you live in an area with a long growing season, go ahead and plant seeds.
When you buy your herbs, you’ll need to transplant them into larger pots so they have good drainage and room to grow. If you are using a windowsill, use pots that will fit on your sills. To promote drainage, make certain there are holes for the water to drain out and use a saucer under the pots to make certain the water doesn’t cause any damage.
I am a big fan of buying a good-quality planting soil. My mother, who had an amazing green thumb, only used Miracle-Gro potting soil. She felt that the addition of the plant food in the soil is what created strong plants that grew larger and healthier than other plants.
Place your pots in the sun and let them grow. Whenever the soil is dry to a depth of at least one inch you’ll need to water the plants so they are well soaked. Remember that the hotter the weather the more your plants will need water, and the wetter it is the less they will need to be watered.
Here is a list of great herbs to start with.
Basil – spicy flavor, slightly minty, pungent and peppery
Good with tomatoes, vegetables, pasta, salads, sauces, pesto, pistou, salad dressings, and drinks.
Chives – mild onion flavor
Add them to sauces, dips, vegetables, mashed potatoes or as agarnish to add a touch of flavor.
Dill – mild, anis, grassy flavor, slightly sweet
Use them in dips, sauces on salmon, potato salads. Note: dill will lose its flavor if cooked too long.
Mint – Fresh, cool tasting, menthol flavor
Wonderful added to a variety of foods, to drinks, used in salads, or steeped for tea.
Oregano –bold, earthy, and strong with a slight bitterness.
Often used in Italian dishes. Use with meat, marinades, stuffings, tomato-based dishes.
Thyme – sharp, slightly minty, citrus, sweet, and slightly flowery.
Great with chicken and other meats, stews, soups, and sauces.
Rosemary – Very aromatic, woodsy, slight citrus, pepper, pine.
It is a strong powerful flavor that is a must addition to your arsenal.
Tarragon – very slight licorice flavor that adds a subtle brightness to food
Good with chicken, light meat stews, fish, eggs, sauces, and salad dressings.
Note: it is hard to describe the smell and flavor of spices. My suggestion is smell and taste all the herbs and spices for yourself that’s how you learn.
Having fresh herbs at your disposal all summer long is wonderful, but if you want them available the rest of the year, you’ll need to harvest them as they grow.
Once your herbs are strong and full of leaves, you can start cutting or pinching the tops of your plants. This won’t damage your herbs but will, instead, stimulate the plant to grow and become bushier.
The leaves you cut and don’t use immediately should be dried. This starts your collection of herbs that you will have to enjoy all year long.
Instructions on how to preserve herbs – Read More Here
Dried herbs are three to four times stronger than fresh herbs. They will last longer if stored in a dark dry spot.
Group the same type herbs together and tie stems together. Hang them upside down to dry. Once they’re completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in a glass air-tight container. Make certain to label them with their names and dates.
Herbs can also be dried in your microwave on a paper towel, although this method is not as effective at preserving their full flavor. Spread the herbs out so they do not overlap and cover with a paper towel. Microwave for about two minutes, checking after one minute to see how the herbs are doing. Microwave time will depend on the density of the herbs. Store in glass container, as above, or place in resealable bags, removing as much air as possible before closing and labeling.
Dehydrators work well. You need to follow the directions that come with the machine and store as above.
Put the herb of your choice in the bowl of a food processor and start processing while adding enough olive oil to make a paste. Spoon the paste into a glass jar and refrigerate; it will keep for at least three months. Alternatively, spoon the paste into an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, put them into a resealable freezer bag. They will keep frozen for 10 to 12 months.
Be creative and combine your own herbs to make your own blends. Since everything looks the same when it is frozen, make certain to label and date all your different bags.
Once frozen, the herbs will last 10 to 12 months—just in time for next summer.
Chop the herbs so they are ready to use. Fill an ice cube tray with the chopped spices and top off each cube with either water or olive oil. Either one works. Once they are frozen, remove them from the tray and place in a resealable bag that you’ve labeled. When you are ready to use a cube, just remove it from the bag and drop it into what you are cooking.
Another way to freeze the herbs is to lay the fresh herbs on a tray or plate and place them in the freezer. Once they are completely frozen, place them in a resealable plastic bag and roll them up, removing as much air as possible. Label with types of herbs, date, and seal the bag closed.
This process is simple and can make a big difference to the flavor of your food.
It is possible to buy all these herbs in your local grocery store already dried and packaged. Though it is easier to do that, the flavor does not compare to the herbs you grow and dry yourself. Try it; not only is it good and healthy, but the fact that you grow and preserve these flavors yourself is incredibly satisfying. It is also an active step in growing a part of the food we eat.
As the Chinese proverb states “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And that is something we should feel proud of.
©Excerpt from Le Kitchen Cookbook: a Workbook (pages 51–52)
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