Sunday, July 04, 2010

Preserving herbs

This is actually a post about Saturday but it is just about one o'clock so the date will show up as Sunday. I wouldn't normally be up this late but it has been so hot this past week (especially Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) that I have been awake till all hours of the morning. Today was looking set to be more of the same given that it was already 30 degrees at half-eight this morning. But the tentatively promised storm arrived around four o'clock and the rain actually seems to have cleared the air a bit. I got home from the garden around six o'clock and when it came to a choice between doing some of the things I haven't gotten around to doing this week due to the heat (like hoovering or ironing) or catching up on some sleep, sleep won. I lay down on the bed with a damp towel across the top of my face (cooling me down and shutting out some of the light as well) and although I didn't sleep very deeply (all the windows are open and the second world-cup match was on as well as the celebratory car-horn beeping after the German win earlier so plenty of noise coming in). However, I did sleep and for far longer than I anticipated. It was after half-nine before I woke enough to check the time and then I had to jump out of bed and run out quickly to the supermarket before it closed at ten. I only needed milk and eggs so it was a very quick trip. But the few hours sleep have done me the world of good and I feel somewhat human again.

Once back, I cleaned the trays from the dehydrator, which have been sitting there waiting to be cleaned all week. I did do the rest of the washing up at about midnight on Thursday evening when the temperature dipped below 25 degrees finally but didn't manage to finish the trays. Once they were done, I washed the salad that I got at the garden today (not going to let the slugs get anymore stuff but luckily there weren't actually any in it this week) and also shelled the peas and blanched them and got them into the freezer.

This kind of a haul from the garden makes me even more glad that I didn't put myself under pressure to go to the market this morning. After sleeping for so long I knew I wouldn't be bothered about eating a big meal so I decided to just blanch the peas for the freezer. It will be nice to be able to just grab a few to add to an omelette or similar in the winter (if they last that long). There were 150g worth of peas once I had shelled them. I'll do the broad beans tomorrow. The salad is washed and ready to be eaten. That's fresh garlic you see in that photo as well. That is mostly what I did this morning - someone else was digging the garlic out of the ground and I was getting rid of the clumps of earth around it and laying it out in the sun to dry a little bit before stacking it in the crates. I was asking the guy I was helping if they braided it but he didn't seem to have any idea what I was talking about. I'm still not sure if he just didn't understand what I was trying to describe or if they just don't do that here. At any rate, we got eight crates full of garlic and it has been stacked under cover but we took out the few small ones and everyone got one to bring home today.

I also got just over half a kilo of cherries. I don't like cherries (yes, I realise I'm in a minority on that one) but I reckoned I would be able to make jam or something. Will have to go and check out my books now to see what can be done. So I probably will end up making jam tomorrow after all.

After the normal work was done in the garden, everyone else went home and I stayed behind to do the preserving herbs course that was being run. It was really interesting although for the first 45 minutes or so we had a walk around the garden being shown the different herbs growing there and talking and asking questions about them. And it was really, really hot so it was kind of hard to concentrate.

We moved back to the pavilion eventually though and after a short instructional part about the different methods of preserving herbs - drying, in vinegar, in oil - we moved on to the practical part of the afternoon. What made the course really interesting, I thought, were the questions from the other participants. And the samples of different vinegars that the two trainers had brought with them were lovely as well. There was one rose vinegar which smelled absolutely gorgeous. Hmmm.

The practical part of the afternoon consisted of each person making their own herb vinegar. There were a selection of herbs available (picked fresh just before we started) as well as some of the fresh garlice, some dried chillis and various peppercorns. Rather than trying to put everything in one bottle and ending up with some ungodly tasting mixture, I decided to keep it very simple. I used a couple of red peppercorns, one small dried chilli, some basil leaves, some rosemary and a few borage flowers. They all went into a bottle and the whole lot was topped off with some cheap clear vinegar (I really have to start making my own vinegar though). The bottle needs to be left in the sun for three weeks, being shaken occasionally and then it should be moved to a cool, dark place for storage. You don't need to strain out the herbs. The beautiful blue borage herbs had already turned pink by the time I was leaving. Very interesting to see.

When we had done that we also had the chance to put some herbs to another use. One of the trainers had a load of majoram with her that she had cut from her garden this morning to try and get the plants a little bit under control again. She had some lavender as well and we made small wreaths with them. That was quite fun - I had no idea what I was doing but the woman ended up finishing mine for me (which was sort of mildly irritating, she could have shown me how to it properly instead of taking it out of my hands like that but I know she meant well so I just decided to let it go) so my somewhat sparse looking not quite a circle ended up much nicer than it might otherwise have been. I'll take a photo tomorrow as I think it will look much better in natural light.

All in all it was not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And since the thunder and lightning started about an hour before we finished up, the last part of the afternoon was particularly enjoyable. The temperature rose a little bit again in the evening but from about half-ten or so it has been faling so that now there is a lovely cool breeze coming in the windows and I think if I go to bed now again, I will actually sleep properly.

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