Tarragon, sage, marjoram, oregano, basil, thyme chives/photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

The herb garden has gone wild from the heat and rain showers. It’s bursting with more herbs than I can handle or possibly use.  It’s like an herb party with too many rowdy guest showing up.  So now is exactly the time to start cutting them back and letting them dry for winter cooking.  This will both begin the supply of dried herbs and also encourage more growth during the next weeks of summer.  Herbs are roughly divided into two categories, “hard” and “soft.”  The soft herbs are herbs with soft stems, such as parsley and tarragon. The soft herbs are best used fresh; they’re fine dried, but they lose their magic, all the beguiling qualities that make them so powerful a la minute.

The hard herbs, those herbs that when allowed to grow develop tough woody stems, are fabulous dried.  The best as far as I’m concerned is thyme, also one of my favorites fresh.  Oregano and marjoram are excellent as is sage, which I have a forest of now.

To dry herbs, I simply put them in a large wooden bowl, making sure they have plenty of circulation, and leave them alone until they’re dry.  That’s really all there is to it.  I keep them in plastic carrier bags, grocery bags, and pull them out for roasted meats and sauces fall, winter and spring.  A great technique is to tie a variety of herbs into a bundle and hang them somewhere out of the way but in view.  Then, when you roast a chicken, take your bundle of dried herbs and shake it over the bird, letting the dried herbs rain down.  They’ll season the chicken as well as the fat with which you can baste the bird.

Fresh and dried herbs are so powerful they can almost be considered a cook’s secret weapon. But they’re expensive to buy which is why I love summer when my own grow in abundance and I have them fresh through the fall and plenty of dried for the rest of the year.

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved