One of the many awesome things you can find at the New Glasgow Farmers Market is an impressive array of fresh herbs. Now if you’re like me, you have awesome intentions of using everything fast and fresh, but sometimes time slips away and things don’t go according to plan and you find those fresh herbs are not so fresh by the time you remember you have them. And in the winter time when you need herbs and spices for all those comfort food dishes, you miss the freshness of summer.
One of the ways you can ensure fresh, local herbs year round is to dry them and save them for later. This is also a great way to get fresh herbs at an affordable price, suitable for most any budget. Ranging from $1.50 to $2.50 per bunch or bag, buying and drying your herbs makes it affordable to make your own herbs instead of paying for them at the grocery store where a jar of spices can run you well over $5. And really…where did those spices come from?
There are a few ways you can dry herbs and each have their pros and cons. I am hanging dill in my kitchen right now and simply cut what I need off as I use it….but if you don’t like your house to smell like dill, this may not be the best method for you. You can use a dehydrator, it is faster, reliable and easy but if you don’t have one, you may not want to put the money out for it. That leaves you with a couple of other options. You can lay your herbs flat on wire rack and leave them to air dry. This has its drawbacks too…it can take a while, especially in humid climates like ours. It is free though, with no cost for electricity or a dehydrator. My first batch of sage, took about 4-5 days…and not everybody has time for that. Or patience…and I fit into this category. So for my subsequent batches, I opted for oven drying. This of course will add a bit of cost to your power bill, but it shouldn’t be too bad and you are trading for time.
To oven dry your herbs, place them on a baking sheet, I prefer a perforated pan to help with air circulation but any baking sheet will do. Be sure that they are placed in a single layer, no overlapping. You can put two cookie sheets in, just spread out the oven racks accordingly. Set your oven to 175 degrees, you can go a bit warmer, but no more than 200 degrees or then you will simply bake them. Keep the oven door open a crack to encourage air circulation and even drying.
They are dry when they are crispy and break off easily. usually about 20-30 minutes depending on the herb. The freshest way to keep them is to put the dry herbs in an airtight container, but you can also grind them, which is what I did with the sage. As long as no moisture enters the jar, they will stay fresh…they won’t go bad, but may be less pungent as time goes on. You can get creative and go all decorative and Pinterest-y or just bottle them for your pantry like I did here. They also make great hostess and Christmas gifts.
To grind them, I just slid the leaves off the stems into a coffee/spice grinder. You can find these for about $10-15 at any home store that carries small appliances.
What are the other benefits of drying your own herbs beside its cost effectiveness? Well of course, it’s the fact that you know where they came from and you know what’s in them….or more importantly what’s not. The herbs at the Market are not sprayed and when you dry and bottle your own, you know there are no fillers. Just herbs. Plain, simple, clean eating.
You can find fresh herbs from Lakenman’s Farm, Jubilee Produce and Bramble Hill Farm, but you will also find there are other vendors that sell them from time to time as well. Red Road Farm will have ginger and turmeric once in a while and many vendors have garlic. As always, we recommend that you take the time to peruse all vendors because you never know what you might be missing!
Your New Glasgow Farmers Market…always Local, Fresh and Flourishing!