Cupboards full of jars that capture the flavors of the garden harvest at its peak are a comforting late-summer sight.
• Dill Pickles
• Mushroom Ketchup
• Sweet Onion Preserves
• Pickled Green Beans with Savory
• Pickled Cherries with Hyssop
• Mint Sambal
• Apple-Lovage Chutney
• Tomatillo Salsa
• Zucchini Relish
• Herb Jelly
• Apricots with Anisette and Fennel
• Plums in Plum Wine with Rosemary
• Blueberries with Orange Liqueur and Lavender
Ah! The beautiful rows of sparkling jars of jams and jellies. The tantalizing aromas of simmering chutneys and relishes. The tang of homemade ketchups and sauces.
Evocative prose about the joys of preserving summer’s bounty always makes me chuckle. Having grown up in a rural household where “putting up” meant food on the table during the winter, my memories are less than idyllic. Unrelenting heat and mind-numbing hours spent preparing fruits and vegetables are the dominant recollection. If truth be told, though, I also recall the feeling of pride and satisfaction at the end of a long day, to say nothing of my pleasure in getting to eat the foam skimmed from the jelly.
Today, I no longer need to make and stockpile all manner of homemade goodies, but rampant supplies of herbs, garden produce, and creative urges (coupled with air conditioning and a continued love of gardening and great food) mean that come late summer, I’m once more in the kitchen surrounded by canning jars, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Friends look forward to gifts from this outpouring of energy, too, and who can complain about having Christmas presents ready by September?
Although my basic approach to cooking is to have a recipe in front of me, my resourceful (Mother would call it rebellious) nature likes to experiment, especially with herbs. I encourage you to do the same. If you have a favorite pickle, jelly, or relish recipe, consider which herbs would complement it. Beans, beets, carrots, pearl onions, and okra are easily pickled. Potential herbal companions include common and lemon thymes, tarragon, dill, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, and sage. And don’t forget to add a sprig of basil and a clove of garlic to each jar of tomatoes when you can them. Canned fruit becomes sophisticated fare when herbs are added, perhaps with a bit of brandy or liqueur. Basils, lemon thyme, angelica, lavender, mint, and sweet cicely are the first herbs that come to mind to use with preserved fruits, but don’t overlook anise, sage, rosemary, and other savory herbs.
As to amounts, I believe in using significant quantities: having that herb flavor is the whole point. Seldom have I ever had a major goof, just lots of interesting results. I’m apt to use whatever is most abundant, grabbing handfuls and combining them in nontraditional ways. As a start, try using 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh herbs with several pounds of vegetables or fruit.
The salt called for in the following recipes is for flavoring rather than preserving. Table salt contains an anticaking agent, which causes cloudiness, and may contain iodine, which discolors or darkens foods. Instead, choose pickling or dairy salt, which contains no additives. Vinegar used in canning should be at least 4 percent acidity (check the label). Home-flavored commercial vinegars are safe (and preferable if you have one that’s flavored with an herb used in the recipe or one that is complementary). Because you cannot determine the acidity of homemade vinegars, they are not recommended in canning recipes.
Maggie Oster writes extensively about herbs, food, gardening, cooking, landscape design, flowers, and crafts. Her books include Recipes from an American Herb Garden (New York: Macmillan, 1993) and Herbal Vinegar (Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, 1994). When she’s not on the road, she’s in her garden or kitchen in Indiana or Kentucky.
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