In spite of benign neglect as I took care of my aging mother this year, I was still gifted with a lovely green harvest from my forgiving garden. Even though I wasn’t able to pick, and a hard frost had already come and gone, several varieties were still hale and hearty. My kale, lemon thyme and several others were ready for picking and use in my holiday feasts.
That’s the thing about kale and most of the herbs I’ve chosen to plant. They will rarely let you down, even if you don’t pay much attention to them. I try not to spray because I’m organic, so I just pray and hope for the best outcome. And I usually get it.
Look at this kale. Isn’t it luscious looking? It’s hard to believe I took these pictures the second week of November. I still had kale and collard greens going strong, alongside some basil and sage. These are hardy little plants.
I walk my dog every morning, and as I pass by the garden, I break off two collards and two kale leaves and bring them in for my morning smoothie. These helped my stamina immensely when I started upping my exercise game.
Look at the ice crystals on the leaves in picture two. They still tasted just fine. Thank heaven for forgiving plants! I use them in kale chips as well as my green smoothies. Remind me to send out the chocolate kale recipe for next month…
My thyme was still fresh and green despite Jack Frost, ready for my balsamic vinegar and tenderloin recipes. Guess I’ll have to send those out later…
My sage turned out the same way. I’ve had three plants for maybe six years, and they keep coming back faithfully.
I take them in, wash them thoroughly and dry them upside down on my pot rack. Since the leaves are pretty thick I let them stay suspended for at least two weeks. Then they are ready to crumble into deliciousness to enhance the flavor of my sage stuffing.
I have also dried my sage in the dehydrator, but I had to make mistakes I will pass along here. I had to learn not to assume an outcome when it comes to dehydrating herbs.
There’s nothing like the smell of fresh herbs from the garden you harvested yourself and used in your favorite recipes. And then there’s also extreme disappointment when half your crop goes brown because of your own flawed processing technique. After all that growing and whatever nurturing you can muster, you don’t want to lose half your crop. So, learn from my mistakes…
My trusty dehydrator let me down. Rather, I suppose I let it down. Who knew? I thought leaves always dried the same. Was I wrong!
I notice an extreme difference in my sage and the sage you can buy in the store. The store-bought kind is a dingy grey-brown, at least in the samples I’ve seen. Mine is a vibrant green, always a source of pride. Well, to slightly misquote Proverbs, pride goes before a fall.
For years I have always hung my sage and thyme upside down from my kitchen pot rack. I enjoyed the satisfaction of displaying the fruits of my labors, though it took some time for my herbs to dry thoroughly. They always looked as fresh as the day I picked them.
Then I bought the dehydrator.
Perhaps I dried them at too high a temperature. I guess I thought drying them at the vegetable setting would be best. Half the leaves turned that grey-brown color. The other half were the green I came to know and love when I did it the old-fashioned way. Some of the leaves were half and half, part brown part green, I ended up having to pick parts of leaves to salvage enough for my spice rack.
My thyme was the same way…green and fresh when hung upside down, brown, shriveled and not fragrant when I put them in the dehydrator.
In a flash of brilliance, after-the-fact of course, I consulted my dehydrator’s guide. Sure enough, they discussed drying sage and thyme…both at 95 degrees. I had chosen the vegetable setting, which happened to be 125. Ouch. I burned my own crop! That will teach me to look up information. As a dehydration newbie, I thought drying was drying. I learned a time-intensive lesson.
You might be asking, what about the store-bought sage? Why is it brown? Indeed. Maybe they don’t take the care with their product that those of us at home do with our eyes toward serving friends and family the best quality.
Lesson learned. Please learn from my mistakes. Now, on to the fun part.
It’s been a yearly ritual for my son to grind the dried leaves with the mortar and pestle every Thanksgiving. He gets in to the grinding process, and I let him know he does a much finer job than I could, using his muscle so effectively. I think this has kept him doing it for me season after season, heh heh.
For his labors, he gets to put as much sage into the stuffing as he wants, tasting as he goes. I have to be careful to keep an eye on him or I won’t have enough stuffing left for the turkey! We both like uncooked stuffing. Not the healthiest thing in the world, but then, I can’t have Tofurkey. Only one year was the sage overdone in the bird, just a touch.
We scrape the pulverized sage into an old glass herb jar. I don’t use plastic containers but carefully reuse the glass. You never know what kind of plastic the spice companies are using unless they are labeled BPH free, so I just choose glass. Notice the “Garden” written clumsily above the professionally-printed Sage name. This is so, when it’s empty, I remember to reuse it rather than recycle.
I hope this inspires anyone who had not yet tried herb gardening to give it a shot next year. Forgiving plants will carry you though. I know you’re not neglectful on purpose, but, as they say, life happens when you’re busy making other plans.
Take it from me, you can still have a garden, and enjoy it, the best way your time and abilities will allow. Plant herbs and greens that remain hardy even if you can’t tend them as much as you would like.