Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Herb Drying for Dummies

Although my normal garden is nothing to brag about, I do have a fairly lovely herb garden. Which is just great. Until it's the end of October and my basil is falling over itself and everything needs to have something done with it if I want to preserve some for myself over the winter. Which I do. But then the idea of cutting off leaves and hanging it or putting it in the dehydrator for days or making a pesto with it or slow oven-drying it, or any of the other methods for herb preservation that I've ever tried made me want to put my head under the covers and hibernate. Often I do have the time and energy for these things and I enjoy them, but this fall, it just made me heave a fat, dramatic sigh. Still, the cheapskate in me just couldn't let them all freeze and go to waste.

(Note: The following is an unnecessarily long story of how I accidentally learned this herb-drying-for-dummies trick. Interestingly many of my for-dummies tricks are discovered quite by accident while I, myself, am acting (for research purposes of course) like a dummy. Anyway... continue on with the story if you will or hop to the instructions below for the method...)

Finally, I went out and chopped down the basil. I figured I'd let it sit on the table and maybe it would, uh, dry itself or something. It didn't. A few leaves started getting funky and I figured, "Okay, I'm not going to let it just sit here and mold." So I took off all the good leaves and figured I'd just dry them in the oven. I had way too much basil to throw in the dehydrator and oven-drying seemed a little easier than making pesto, (and it didn't involve any expensive ingredients that I may or may not have had).

Generally, to oven dry, I do this: 1) Turn the oven to lowest setting. For me this is 175, which is a little too high for herbs, so I let it get almost there and then I turn the oven off and let it sit, and then when the oven has cooled a few hours later, I turn the oven back and then repeat that process. For a small amount of herb, it's not a big deal. But for a large amount, it takes forever. And you have to keep "tossing" your basil so some doesn't dry while the other stuff accidentally steams/cooks/gets weird. And then if you really have a lot of herb, you need to take the stuff that has dried out and let the other stuff keep going. Blah blah blah.

And I seriously had a lot of basil. It would have taken days and been super annoying and commandeered my oven. And I was sure I'd forget it was in there and pre-heat the oven for something and ruin the basil.

So I turned on the oven and let it heat. Then turned it off and let my basil sit in the warm oven. Then it was bedtime. And my basil sure wasn't all dry. So I gave my basil a toss and then turned on the oven light to remind me the basil was there so I wouldn't accidentally cook it all while preheating the oven for something non-herb-related the next day.

And guess what? The next morning, my basil was perfectly wonderfully, effortlessly dry. Crumbly, fresh-scented, awesome. When I took the pans out, they were warm to the touch. The light I'd left on had kept the oven just warm enough to be the perfect temperature. And leaving it overnight was the right amount of time (though I'm sure they could have been left for longer).

Herb Drying for Dummies

1) Take the leaves off the stems and spread leaves out on large cookie sheets. It's ideal if the leaves don't overlap, but I certainly broke that rule and had overlapping leaves and leaf clusters just everywhere.

2) Heat your oven to its lowest setting. As soon as it gets there or close, turn the oven off.

3) Turn the oven light on.

4) Let sit overnight. Note: If you have a ton of herbs (especially if they're overlapping), give them a little toss before you go to bed to get the bottom ones on top and visa versa).

5) In the morning, they should be crumbly and perfect. If not, leave them a few hours longer with that oven light on.

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