One word. Herbs.
This is the time of year when the air temperature has risen (!) and with a few showers everything in the garden starts to get a move on. Our herbs are no exception and they are growing really fast now. So, What to do? Well apart from the odd sprig on the roast lamb or baked salmon there are many and varied ways of preserving the essence of the herbs - very simply.
Bear in mind that every part of the plant will carry the oils that give the fragrance and flavour, so don't waste any. I have already written an earlier blog on the joys of Lemon Balm, which I hope some of you are now growing. Apart from the mints, this herb seems the most generous, growing almost anywhere abundantly. It's glorious flavour makes a fantastic vinegar, with or without additional lemon zest. Or try the Lemon Balm Pesto - delicious and zesty with one of the new British Brie-type cheeses.
I have picked a variety of herbs this morning and put some of them into a glass jar and covered with white wine vinegar to make a mixed herb vinegar. It doesn't matter much what the mix is, but I only include a little of the more powerful ones, mint, rosemary for instance. Leave for a couple of weeks and then strain and bottle.
hover mouse over picture to see instructions
If you are going to a market or sale stall soon as well as taking your preserves, why not take some fresh bouquets garnis as well. They will make you stand out from the crowd and be a talking point - if you are near a meat stall be sure to tell them and they may send their customers over. Again any mix will usually do, use rosemary in a bunch for lamb, dill for fish, that kind of thing. Just bunch together, making sure to include that wonderfully flavoured bay leaf, and tie with string. I always leave a loop so that you can hook the bunch out with a fork at the end of cooking time. Try banding them with our jar wrap from the Herbs range, folded in half to make it robust. This new range will be on the website shortly. If you would like to win a set, see below!
Now is the time to start making some Herb Jellies, either mixed flavours or single flavour - you can see my recipe on this for all of the information. Herb Salt is another sophisticated preserve that is so simple to make it is almost embarrassing and don't forget just plain old hanging them up to dry, although personally I don't think that is the best way to preserve the colour and flavour. BTW if you hang a bunch of fresh lavender in a room it will keep flies away. Simple.
Herb Salt is in the round clip top jar in the middle, with the round herb tag and wooden salt scoop
One little gem I found on a website called pioneerthinking.com - Sage Honey. If, like me. you have masses of sage in the garden you will know that it always needs cutting back. Use some of the best leaves for this little jar of heavenly honey which is great in the winter for sore throats or just as a sweet tea. Tear up the leaves and pack into a jar, then pour over honey until the whole jar is filled. You will need to use something to lift the leaves slightly to make sure the honey oozes inbetween the layers. I used the end of a spoon. Leave the leaves in the honey for at least two weeks before using. Just leave the leaves as they are and if you want to make a tea put about a spoonful of honey plus leaves in a mug and pour over hot, not boiling water. For a sore throat just take a spoonful of the honey from time to time. I have used purple sage but the regular old green one is just as good.
Last but not least, we all have masses of dried stems and flowers etc to cut back from our herbs to tidy up for the winter. Don't just throw them away - get a sheet of newspaper and fold in half, lay on your stalks etc plus any old spices you need to dispose of plus dried orange or lemon peel ( dry out when you have the oven on, peel is packed with oils ) Roll up the paper from one side and tie at each end like a Christmas cracker. These make brilliant natural firelighters and will make your room smell lovely if stored in a basket by the fire. They smell good as they burn as well. Another great, unusual addition to stalls and markets.
Now, if you would like the chance to win one of our new 2-jar gift boxes and a set of herb Jarcessories leave a comment below with your best herb-related tip. The best 10 will each receive a pack.