September 8, 2011

Closing the Container Garden & Freezing Herbs {Naptime Simple Tips}

Herbs

Last spring I planted this terrific container garden for our deck and we’ve been enjoying the bounty of herbs all summer long. There is no end to the flavor possibilities with delicious fresh herbs on hand and I, for one, have been adding them to just about all of my dishes. Now that fall is coming it is time for me to start freezing the remaining herbs so I can use them all winter. A lot of people I talk with are surprised that I bother to do this since fresh herbs can be procured at the store year-round. This is true, of course, but I prefer to preserve the herbs I’ve been growing all season because it saves a lot of money and my homegrown herbs simply taste better.

I thought today I’d share how I am freezing herbs for winter in case you are inspired to do the same with yours. I often make this a project when my daughter is at school. It takes about an hour, including drying time, for me to get everything rinsed, dried and in their freezer bags for the whole winter. It is well worth my time, I think, because it ensures wonderfully flavored food all winter long! I try to freeze as much as I can at one time and often do at least two freezing sessions before discarding the bare plants before the first frost. I should note that I am wintering over my rosemary and lemon verbena plants because they are hearty enough to thrive indoors, but I’ve included how they can be frozen below for your reference.

Why It Is Good to Freeze Herbs:

  • Freezing summer herbs is a huge cost savings. The herbs are, obviously, free and with very little effort you can freeze more than enough herbs to last you the whole winter and spring before you plant new pots.
  • The flavors of your herbs are bound to be stronger and far more delicious than anything you buy at the store.
  • Herbs can add incredible depth of flavor to the most basic winter dishes like soups, roast chicken, roast winter vegetables and pasta sauces. Having your frozen herbs on hand will give you limitless flavor options and banish blandness from your winter kitchen forever!

What You Need:

  • Double-strength freezer bags
  • Clean Kitchen Towels
  • 1 cup hot water & a strainer (for the basil, only)
  • Permanent Marker

How to Freeze Herbs:

1) Pick: Pick all herbs fresh right before want to freeze them. I sometimes take a week off from picking herbs to give my plants extra time to fill out. Small greens on thin sprigs like Thyme, Parsley, Lemon Thyme, Rosemary, and Dill can be frozen on the sprig so feel free to clip as many springs as possible to freeze. Leafy greens like Basil, Lemon Verbena, Oregano, Mint, and Sage should be stripped from their stalks before being frozen.

2) Rinse: Place the herbs in a strainer and rinse with cool water just to get off any dirt or bugs. Do not let them soak in the water or their essential oils will leach out and they will lose flavor. Put the herbs in a salad spinner or on top of clean, dry kitchen towels and gently pat them dry.

3) Blanche Basil: There is some debate about blanching herbs before freezing and the general opinion is that it is not necessary for any herbs other than basil. Basil leaves will turn black if they are not blanched before being frozen. To blanch them, pour boiling water over the fresh basil leaves and place them on clean, dry kitchen towels to dry. Then, place them in a freezer bag, mark it with a sharpie and press the air out of the bag. Seal and freeze.

4) Pack: Once the herbs are completely dry pack them into clearly marked freezer bags. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to mark your bags well, unless you want to play the herb guessing game every time you flavor soups all winter long! I find it easiest to spread the herbs the entire length of the bag instead of allowing them to clump at the bottom. Freezing them in a sheet like this makes it much easier to break off a piece or two when you need them in the winter. Once they are in the bag use the heal of your hand to press all of the air out of the bag before sealing it. Then, stack the bags like a stack of paper on the freezer shelf and they are all set! By the end of the winter I usually have gone through most of our herbs so I might roll up the remaining bags to conserve space, but this is usually how they look for most the winter months (see below). What is below them? My containers of frozen pesto and marinara sauce of course!

Frozen Herbs

Stacked Bags of Frozen Herbs for Winter!

More freezable herbs include: Chives, Chervil, Tarragon to name a few!

A Few Winter Dishes the Use Herbs:

  • http://www.sarahpinneo.com/blog Sarah at Julia’s child

    Hmmm… interesting!  I guess the resulting texture just doesn’t matter much in soups.  I get it!

    • Anonymous

      Hi! exactly Sarah, I wouldn’t use the frozen basil to scatter over a caprese salad, but it works beautifully in soups, for flavoring roasts, chicken, chopping and stirring into sauces, etc…