2015-10-22 / From The Garden

Bringing the Summer Garden Indoors

Preserving Herbs for the Winter Table
By Cynthia Gibson
Fall Foliage and Flowers

The Aquidneck Island landscape in early fall is lush—not only with colorful foliage; it is also awash in a variety of hydrangea blooms, all of which dry so easily. Using autumn leaves and flower arrangements as an accent in the home can be a wonderful tribute to the lovely summer season. The leaves are vibrant, and will hold their color for a good deal of time.

If your maple trees need pruning, this is the time to clip a few thin branches for color and bring them inside. Put them in a glass vase; do not add water. The leaves will be dramatic and pretty for at least a few days before curling and turning brown.

Dried leaves are a true symbol of fall. The reds, oranges, bright yellows, and mustard-browns are beautiful. Walking down local streets and parks in the fall is a delightful experience. Surrounded by the autumn colors, it is great fun to see who can collect the most leaves. To preserve them (for a while), iron them between two sheets of wax paper. Be sure to leave a quarter-inch of wax paper around each leaf.

As for hydrangeas, they make a lovely dried bouquet that will last until spring. Many, in fact, dry themselves: Limelight, Pinky Winky, Pee Gee, and Annabelle—all large and with sturdy blossom heads—make beautiful arrangements. The conical Limelight and Pee Gee range from a beautiful “ashes of roses’” pink to almost scarlet at the edges of their whitish blossoms. To fill a vase of Limelight you need only gather eight stems at most, unless you want a huge bouquet. All of these dry right on the shrub; the Annabelle will stay a lovely spring green for a few months before turning brown. Keep in mind that they do not require water, and do not place them near fireplaces, as they make great tinder.

Branches of colorful maple leaves mixed with long stems of drying (dried) hydrangea are sensational. A matching pair of bouquets on a sideboard is a very lovely sight. Take advantage of these gifts from nature before the trees are bare, which will be sooner than you think!

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard Dry your herbs before the first frost turns the leaves brown or black. If you dry them while they are green, you are capturing the essence of the herb while it is full of flavor and not fading. They will also hold on to a bit of green color.

Sage is a great herb for making into a small bundle. Remove the leaves from the lowest part of the stems so the stems can be bunched and secured with a rubber band. Hang them on a hook or nail out of the sunlight and let them dry, which should take two to three days. Label bunches with a small tag.

Smaller leafed herbs such as marjoram, summer savory and thyme can be dried on newspaper or on a rack, using a screenlike mesh. As these tiny leaves dry, they shrink and become quite brittle. Each little leaf packs a mean punch, so don’t let any of them fall through the cracks of a large baking rack. Within a few days remove the leaves from the rack and place them in jars with tight lids. You can find the right jars and white plastic lids at any hardware store.

A quick way to dry herbs is with a microwave oven. Take a porcelain dinner plate covered with a square of paper towel, and place it in the microwave. To dry basil, for example, place the leaves one at a time on the paper towel. They should have enough space between them for air movement and easy drying. Place a second square of paper towel on top of the leaves. Microwave the herbs on high for two to three minutes—but check them every 20 seconds so they dry evenly.

Remember: You are drying the leaves, not cooking them. If you rinsed your leaves before placing them into the microwave make sure the surface water is removed, or they will cook! Once out of the microwave, store them in an airtight jar—glass with a metal clasp works best. They will last for a year; make sure you date all jars.

The ice cube tray is a perfect vehicle for freezing herbs that are fresh. You can chop Italian parsley, basil, coriander and dill, place them in the compartments, and top them off with a bit of water. To keep the herbs straight, I suggest using four ice cube trays, marking each tray with the name of a different herb. After freezing, place the herb-cubes in a freezer bag with the date and name of the herb. During the winter, you can use them to add flavor to soups and stews.

You can also freeze homemade pesto in the same fashion. Pour your pesto into ice cube trays, freeze, pop them out and keep them in freezer bags. You will be amazed at the zip a few pestocubes will give everyday spaghetti sauce, tomato soup, or stew of your choice. They can also be defrosted, and used as regular pesto.

These fresh-frozen and dried herbs are guaranteed to put smiles on the faces of those around your table this fall and winter.

October Garden Tips

. October is the time to pull up old plants—tomatoes and all others. And to store your tomato cages.

. Weed and rake your raised garden beds or vegetable garden.

. For a weedless garden come spring, prepare for winter by putting down black landscape cloth over the soil in your raised beds. Secure the cloth with landscape pins.

. Rake the leaves that did not make it into bouquets. Add them to compost or mow over them; this will create mulch for your lawn.

. Rake the nasty spots on your lawn and replenish with new soil. While early November is the time to plant your new grass seed, now is the time to prepare the spots. Skunks are still active this time of year, and are busy digging up the last of the grubs they can find.

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