More ways to preserve the herbs in your garden

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The garden is slowly winding down, but many herbs are still producing lots of tasty additions to your meals.

Before that cold does hit them though, there are a few ways you can be preserving them.
I talked before about dehydrating them, which creates an all-purpose way of using them in a variety of dishes.

If you do dehydrate them, pack the leaves whole into jars or airtight bags to store them.

Leaving the leaves whole helps preserve the flavor more by retaining the oils. Then smash them up once you are ready to toss them into your favorite dish.

There also are alternatives to dehydrating.

Another method is to freeze them. You don’t want to just stick them in the freezer as they are or you will end up with herbs that have wilted and turned black.

Instead, freeze them in cubes. To do this you will wash and pat dry the herbs. Then trim the stems and chop them up. You can use an ice tray, or I have a silicone tray with a lid (this can be found in the canning supplies) which makes them easy to pop out. Fill each square a little over half full with the herbs, packing them in fairly tightly.

Then top off each square with melted butter or olive oil. These will freeze into cubes, which can be dropped into a soup or other recipe.

I have made cubes of butter with parsley and with basil before, but I look forward to trying some new ones.

Starting next week I will look at some different recipes I have come up with for each of the herbs I grow. Do you have a favorite herb and dish in which you use it? Let me know. I’d love to try it out.

Side note: I was told about another way to use peppers after my last column. It was suggested to make canned/bottled pepper sauce, something this reader’s grandmother always did. Has anyone else tried this? I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

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Preserving peppers for future meals, seasonings

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Did you pick all of those peppers last week? I did. The lows were dipping a bit too much for my comfort so I picked everything big enough to use.

Now I have a refrigerator full of peppers.

The easiest way to preserve them is to freeze them. You can freeze them whole, but I like to take the seeds and membrane out first, so I slice mine in half, then remove the seeds.

The next step can be done a couple of different ways. The first few years I froze peppers, they were bigger, like Poblanos, so I would just freeze two in each shrink wrap bag. But as I started freezing smaller peppers like Seranos and Jalapeño varieties, this no longer seemed like the best method. It took quite a while and used a lot of bags. So I began laying the peppers out on a cookie sheet, careful not to let them touch, then sliding that into the freezer until they were good and solid. Then I put the peppers into a freezer bag and remove them as I need them for meals.img_2308

Another method is to dry the peppers. With this method you definitely want to slice them in half, or smaller, so they dry thoroughly. Fill your trays and let them dry at about 130 degrees for 12 hours in your dehydrator. They can then be stored in baggies or jars until needed. As you use them, crush the peppers with a mortar and pestel then sprinkle them as seasoning on dishes or mix them into a recipe.

To add a little more flavor, it is fun to smoke the peppers. I like trying a variety of wood smokes, but a favorite is probably Apple wood. Let them smoke for one and a half hours at 250 degrees, then remove them and put on the next batch. Once again, lay them on a tray with a little space between each. Once you bring them in you will still need to finish drying them in the dehydrator for a few hours, or until brittle so they will store without spoiling.

One important note is to keep track of your peppers. If you’re like me, you will be preserving several different types of peppers at once in order to fill the dehydrator or smoker. The problem with this is the peppers, shrink, change color and look nothing like they started once they are finished. Be sure to keep them separated and keep a list of which ones are which, then label the bags when you store them. These also can ground up to be used in dishes or a seasoning blend. When grinding wear something over your face because inhaling the pepper flakes is not pleasant.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Peppers offer variety of flavor, colors for cooking

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Garden season is winding down, but there are a few plants still hanging on. Some that are continuing to produce a lot are my peppers.

From sweet to hot, I like to grow a variety of peppers. Each year I find a few new ones to try. In addition to the bell peppers, I have discovered a few other favorites along the way.

One of my favorites is the Poblano pepper. It’s not too hot and has a great flavor. Another good pepper that I have grown for a few years now is the Hungarian Wax. Although the name is not appealing, the flavor is. They are one of the more mild hot peppers so they are good in a variety of dishes.

I also have grown the standards of chili peppers, jalapeños and cayenne. These are good, and I like to sprinkle a bit of dried chili pepper in my chili, but I find these are too hot for me usually, especially the cayenne peppers.

Last year I found a good alternative to jalapeños. Fooled You peppers have the jalapeño flavor but not the heat. In addition Mucho Nacho peppers are a similar flavor, but not the heat. I also tried some Serano and Garden Salsa peppers last year, which I have enjoyed.

This year I added Santiago and Gypsy peppers. I have not used either of these too much, but when I have, they have been good as well.

One common trend in my “hot” peppers, is they are not that hot. While you don’t want to sit down and eat one raw – and with some, you will want to wear gloves if cutting very many – when they are cooked in a dish, they add some nice flavor to the meal.

For the bell peppers, I like not just the green bell peppers, but also orange, red, purple and yellow. They make a very colorful dish, like for fajitas.

One important note about peppers is they do not like the cold. If the forecast is anywhere near freezing, pick all you can and bring them indoors. After learning the hard way last year, when the forecast calls for lows within 10 degrees of freezing I will be out picking the night before.

With so many peppers, preserving them is important. There are a couple of easy methods, including freezing and drying. I will talk more about tips for preserving and uses in next week’s Garden Talk.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

So many uses for home-grown zucchini

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Are you still picking those zucchini and wondering what to do with so many? One plant can sure produce a lot.

I have found a few different ways to prepare the zucchini.

One is to simply grill the zucchini. I have a shallow pan I like to cook it in. To prepare it, slice the zucchini in thin strips and toss with olive oil before grilling until soft. If you want to add a little more flavor, I like to slice an onion to add in, as well as some garlic. There are also any number of seasonings you can sprinkle on to give an added boost. One of my favorites is Mesquite seasoning. Toss all of that together and put it on the grill.

This makes a great side dish to any meal. Another good side dish is parmesan crusted zucchini fries. You can either cut in strips again or slice the zucchini. Then coat the zucchini with egg and a combination of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning once, at 425 degrees.

Want to make zucchini your main course? I have a great recipe for that as well. You can use the zucchini to make Zucchini Boats. To do this, slice the zucchini in half, scoop out the seeds and microwave for about 7 minutes. Then fill the zucchini with spaghetti sauce and top with cheese. Bake this for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and enjoy.

If you are looking for a healthy snack, zucchini chips are a great option. Thinly slice the zucchini, then place on dehydrator trays. You can season with sea salt or grind up other herbs and sprinkle across the slices. Dehydrate for about 12 hours depending on the thickness of your slices.

One other favorite for zucchini is of course zucchini bread. This is what got me hooked on zucchini several years ago. Before that, I always thought I didn’t like it. I tried the zucchini bread though and loved it, then started growing some just for bread. I have since discovered so many great uses for zucchini, I can’t imagine why I ever thought I didn’t like it.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.