One of the advantages of growing your own herbs is being able to harvest fresh plant parts when you need them. Also, when you grow your own, you can select plants that might not be readily available in the local market. Preserving some herbs will allow their use year round. Drying herbs is the most energy efficient way.
Harvest herbs when the plant has enough foliage to sustain growth. With annual herbs like basil, you can cut 50-75% of the plant and it will recover. Cutting off flower heads will encourage more leaf growth. For perennial herbs like parsley, remove no more than one-third of the plant growth at any one time. Use pruners or a sharp knife to make clean cuts that will heal easily.
Harvest early in the day after plants have dried from the morning dew and before it gets too hot. Make sure that the plants have not been sprayed with pesticides.
The traditional way to preserve herbs is by air drying or by using low heat. Drying concentrates the flavor of herbs so you can use less dried herb than the amount of fresh ones in recipes.
After harvesting, gently wash and dry them thoroughly on paper towels. Pick over them to remove any dead or damaged material. They can be tied in loose bunches and placed in small paper bags with the stems sticking out the top of the bag. Punch ventilation holes in the bag. The bags help protect the drying herbs from dust and other contamination while drying. Place the herb bunches in a warm, dry, well ventilated area out of the sun. It may take up to a month for them to dry completely.
For quicker completion of drying, we utilize a home food dehydrator or our Sun Oven®. We strip the leaves from the stems and spread the leaves on drying trays. Maintain a 95º F temperature for a day. Check the herbs for crunchy dryness and pack carefully into glass jars. Clear glass jars store best in a cool, dark place. Crush the herbs just prior to using them. Most herbs retain their flavor for about a year.
Freezing herbs is easy, but herbs preserved this way are most useful in the cooking process. Frozen herbs often thaw out limp and are not suitable for garnish, but the flavor quality is not altered.
Billie Nicholson, editor
Sun drying is an economical method of food preservation. Anything you see dried on your grocer’s shelves, you can dry. If you grow it, you can be assured of maximum freshness and food value. Dried items require no additional energy to store and can be kept for extended periods.
Dried fruit can be mixed with cereal or granola, or with nuts and seeds to make energy bars, if you can stop eating them when the drying process is complete. Dip fruit like peaches or apples in Fruit-Fresh® to preserve the color. Most dried vegetables can be easily rehydrated in soups or by soaking them in water for 10 minutes to an hour.
Drying meat or fish may take up to two days. Sun drying will keep the odor out of your house. Leave meat in the oven and seal the latches, this will suspend the drying process and keep bugs from getting into the oven. Finish the drying process the next day. This is a great way to make deer jerky.
Place your SUN OVEN® outdoors in a sunny place, facing south. The multi-level racks can be covered with parchment paper, filled with sliced items (the thinner the slice, the quicker the drying), and stacked inside the SUN OVEN® on the leveling tray. Turn one of the latches inward and set the glass on top leaving a gap between the glass and gasket allowing moisture to escape. The ideal temperature for drying is between 110 and 150 degrees F. Keep the temperature low to avoid cooking the food.
Billie Nicholson, editor
When they were in abundance at our farmer’s market, I bought a bunch of summer squash. They are not one of my favorite frozen foods. In an attempt to find an alternative way to preserve them, I dehydrated them in our Sun Oven®. They were sliced in a uniform thickness of 1/4”, spread on parchment paper and sprinkled with seasoned salt and dried oregano. Placed in the Sun Oven® and kept at a temperature of less than 100ºF. by leaving the door propped open, they were dehydrated in 24 hours.
The plan was to store them in glass canning jars, add an oxygen absorber and pull a vacuum seal. That happened on the second batch. The first batch never made it that far. We sampled them and the next thing we knew, we had eaten them all. What a treat! They were better than potato chips and no cooking required. I may never cook summer squash again. Try this and let us know you seasoning recipe.
Billie Nicholson, editor
This month’s article includes:
Thanksgiving Day – An American Tradition a change of economic systems led to this holiday for expressing gratitude http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12222
A Winter “To Do” List http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12232 Don’t let cold weather catch you unprepared.
Use household items to make your own Gel packs for sprains and swollen joints. http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12238
Inviting pests to leave your home this winter, naturally. http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12260
Commit these ground to air emergency codes to memory. You may need them this winter. http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12243
Super size your rain water storage http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12265
French style Stew http://www.sunoven.com/archives/12032
Today I was listening to a video by Healthy Prepper in which she shared the concept of dehydrating fruit and vegetables at their prime ripeness. She had just purchased many bags of price-reduced items. The groceries were beautiful, just really, really ripe. Studies reveal that 40% of food we purchase goes to waste. You can dehydrate almost any fruit or veggie, so there is no reason food should go to waste.
The SUNOVEN® is perfect for dehydrating produce. Green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, grapes and figs are in abundance in my refrigerator. Rather than hope that we’ll get around to eating them all before they spoil, I decided to begin a dehydrating project.
When dehydrating with the SUN OVEN®, focusing the oven into the sun is not necessary. The goal is to have a consistent temperature that ranges from 110º – 155º F. Keep the latches open for moisture and excess heat to escape. A higher temperature will effectively cook the produce rather than dry it. Use parchment paper and the racks provided with the oven. Drying time will vary depending on thickness. Try to be consistent so the pieces will dry at about the same rate. Check the oven from time to time to see how things are going. If your fruit or vegetables have not dried by the end of the day, simply leave them inside the SUN OVEN® over night. Collapse the reflectors and latch the door. The next day, resume drying with the door unlatched. For more details, watch our video on Dehydrating with the Sun Oven®.
After the produce has dried, there are a variety of ways to store them. The figs were packed in FoodSaver® bags and vacuum sealed. The Bay Laurel leaves, were stored in a plastic container. The tomatoes were stored in a glass jar with an oxygen absorber and vacuum sealed. What a great way to increase your food storage, reduce waste, and use the sun’s energy. What are you drying?
Other articles in the August 2014 Newsletter include:
Lisa Lynn, from The Self Sufficient Home Acre presented alternative ways to preserve food during the 2014 Survival Summit. Food preservation is important because fresh food has a short shelf life. Extending the life of food allows for less waste. We all need to expand our preservation skills as part of our survival plans. We have no guarantee that we will have food in the future just because we have some today. Whether we acquire food from a grocery store or by foraging, hunting, fishing or gardening, these tips are useful.
Some preservation techniques require purchasing additional equipment, like pressure or waterbath canners, vacuum sealers and their supplies. In the long run, you can save money and more importantly, you know the quality and the source of the food you preserve. There are several techniques that can be used without electricity.
Root cellars and clamping involve storing fruits and vegetables in cool storage. Root cellars need to be below ground far enough to be below the freeze zone. They need to have good ventilation and a way to control the humidity and temperature as different crops have varied optimum storage requirements. Clamping involves digging a trench, adding straw layers below and above the stored food, covering the straw with soil and a tarp. Stored items need to be checked frequently, using or discarding the oldest or any that are past their prime. Remember one rotten apple can spoil the rest.
Dehydrating fruits and vegetables allows for longer storage time, the food is often much lighter and more portable. Herbs can be dried by simply hanging them in a dry place out of direct sunlight.
The Sun Oven® can be used for dehydrating fruit, vegetables or meat. You need to watch the temperature so the food doesn’t get cooked. Alternatively, you can build a fire, cover it with a lattice of branches, then smoke and dehydrate at the same time.
If you smoke meat, the temperature should be 145º F. Adding green wood, small twigs & branches to a low fire will create lots of smoke. The length of drying time will depend on the thickness of the meat slices. Adding salt to thin strips will speed up the process. Salt is a natural preservative. It draws moisture out and kills bacteria. To extend the shelf life, add ground celery seed as natural nitrates to kill bacteria. The drier the meat, the longer you can keep it. Moist cured meat should be used within six months. Store it in temperatures from 36-40º F. Place it in an air-tight, non-reactive container – don’t use cast iron or aluminum pans. Fish can also be smoked and dried or salted and air dried.
Fermenting and culturing food with bacteria and yeast causes a chemical change in the food that allows it to be kept for a longer time. Examples of fermented and cultured food include sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt, kimchee and pickles. The probiotics present in this process increase the nutrition and digestibility of foods.This process creates some marvelous, complex flavors. Plan to use jars or crocks and colored sea salt (not processed). The standard fermenting recipe is 6 TBS salt to 1/2 gallon water. Lactobacilli thrive in a fermenting environment and repel other decomposing bacteria. Make a liquid to submerge the vegetables. Cover and watch for bubbles, that’s a sign the process is working. You will need to add an airlock valve or burp the lid from time to time to let the gas out. Store in a cool place. Fermented foods will keep for several months, but most foods are not suited for very long storage.
Editor’s Note: After Hurricane Ivan, a friend of ours dug a pit in the ground, lined it with plastic bags, straw and rock salt. Into it she placed the frozen contents of her freezer, covered it with plastic bags, followed by more rock salt and straw and topped with styrofoam. Things stayed frozen for nearly two weeks in the hot Florida weather.