Kitchen Garden Seeds

Bringing Herbs in from the Cold

Protection from Early Frosts
Fresh Herbs add special magic to our cooking, and as fall approaches, we do everything possible to prolong their garden and kitchen bounty. Frosty nights send us scurrying to cover our prized Basil with sheets, garden fabric, cardboard boxes and tarps. We dig up Chives, Thyme and even Mint, cramming them into pots with fresh soil that can be brought indoors. Herb-filled window boxes are dragged into the kitchen and potted Rosemary and Sage are squeezed onto kitchen windowsills. We hold on to them as long as we can, as if their very existence could keep summer alive.

The urge to save our savory friends is strong, but after many years, we have found that bringing these plants indoors can be more trouble than it’s worth. Garden soil and garden plants almost always contain insects that can quickly infest houseplants. Providing adequate light usually proves to be difficult. And, the transition from outdoors to indoors is so stressful on the plants, that the foliage often winds up diminished in color, limp and unusable.

Bringing the Harvested Herbs Inside
After we have protected our outdoor Herbs from early, intermittent night frosts, and ever more frosty night temperatures become the norm, we focus on bringing harvested Herbs indoors~not the plants themselves. Although it is a little sad to tidy up and bid farewell to our Herb garden at season's end, it really is a cozy and rewarding nesting process from which we benefit all winter long.

Once indoors, we lovingly remove Basil leaves from their stems and wash and spin them dry before nestling them into our food processor with toasted pine nuts, freshly grated parmesan cheese, fat cloves of garlic and golden olive oil for Our Favorite Basil Pesto. We freeze it flat in airtight bags and then line them up like culinary soldiers in the freezer door. It is so nice to snap off pieces for quick pasta sauces, or to spread a thin layer over soft goat cheese in a little baking dish for an impromptu warm hors d'oeuvre with pita chips on a cold winter night. A little piece is also nice melted into a pot of homemade chicken and pasta soup.

We make all different sorts of Herbed Compound Butters and Herbed Butter Balls, and freeze them on cookie sheets after which we pop them into airtight bags for easy freezer access. We dip into our frozen buttery herb treasure trove almost every night as we prepare dinner. Everything is better with butter infused with your own fresh Herbs. You can make up your own favorite combinations: Parsley, Sage and Thyme or Parsley, Garlic and Shallots or Basil, grated ginger root, lemon zest and Garlic. It is nice to rub herbed butter under the skin of a plump chicken before roasting, or to melt savory butter atop freshly steamed vegetables. It's deliciously handy to deglaze skillets with compound butters and a swosh of wine or chicken broth after pan-searing scallops, chicken breasts or pork chops. Don’t forget to make some butter with finely minced Dill~great for steamed Carrots.

We chop Chives, Parsley, Dill and Cilantro, infuse them with just a little olive oil and freeze them in ice cube trays after which we pop them out and store them in airtight freezer bags. They normally retain their verdant greenness for four to six months. Individually, we finely dice Chives, Cilantro and Parsley, wash them and dry them on paper towels before freezing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, we scoop them into individual airtight freezer bags. There is nothing more lovely on a cold winter afternoon than a steaming bowl of Cream of Potato-Leek Soup with homemade croutons sprinkled with your own minced Chives. Heaven. Parsley is good in almost everything, almost all the time. Cilantro perks up winter salsas and is essential in Asian dishes, like Thai Peanut Noodle Salad. Our freezer turns into a secret cache of magical envelopes that makes each night's dinner a quick, and most delicious, fix.

Fresh Mint is a summertime treat that we can enjoy in winter, too. Mint leaves, slowly steeped in homemade simple syrup, is a favorite addition to hot tea and adult beverages. Mint retains its flavor when dried, and a handful of crushed dry Mint is a delightful addition to hearty mixed grains. Herbal oils and vinegars make it easy to capture the complex flavors of Basil, Rosemary or Tarragon. Simply tuck a few sprigs in a small container of good vinegar or extra virgin olive oil and let sit for a month or so. Little bottles of herbed vinegars and oils, dressed up with handmade labels, make wonderful hostess gifts.

The Mediterranean herbs like Sage, Thyme, Marjoram, Summer Savory, Oregano and Rosemary air-dry rather quickly. Make small bundles of them and fasten them with raffia or rubber bands. They look so pretty piled into a wicker basket or tied into a little herb wreath. Be sure to lay in a good supply of Sage for Thanksgiving dinner, and Thyme for winter soups, stews and chowders. Marjoram is delicious with Carrots or shrimp, and Summer Savory is good with mussels or pork. Every pizza is better with some crushed Oregano on top, but Oregano is also wonderful with chicken, as in the classic Silver Palate recipe for Chicken Marbella. Big bunches of fragrant, dried Rosemary are good to have around the kitchen, even if you don’t use them in cooking. But that would be a shame, because Rosemary is divine with roasted Potatoes, baked chicken, grilled meats and savory shortbread cookies. Any stalwart edible flowers still perfect and fresh may be candied or crystallized for special fall desserts or strewn fresh into salads.