I’M DIZZY AND INTOXICATED, and the house smells like the most delicious aroma-therapy spa treatment ever. That’s because my friend Gayla Trail, creator of You Grow Girl [dot] com, journeyed down along the winding blue highways from Toronto one fall weekend to put on a Banking the Bounty workshop here at my place, and I got swept up in a cloud of fragrance—and flavor. In print or in a podcast, some ideas for banking your own garden bounty, including salt rubs and flavored vinegars that would make great gifts—many of them new to me. Thank you, Gayla.
I confess, I’d become somewhat herb-complacent, always stocked up year-round on garden-grown parsley and garlic and sage and chives, but not very herb-adventurous any longer otherwise. I have various other herbs in the garden, but mostly ornamental varieties—like gold-leaf creeping oregano (also called marjoram, and a great groundcover), or garlic chives (which I rarely eat, but whose late-summer white flowers the pollinators and I both enjoy very much).
After saying goodbye much too soon that Sunday to Gayla, her husband, Davin Risk, and their dog, Molly, all I wanted to do was pulse aromatic things in my food-processor, and I made basil pesto to freeze in cubes, froze whose rosemary twigs, made a parsley log and more of my usual fare–the ways I always freeze herbs. But every time I looked over at the goodies I’d made in class the day before, I thought: more, more, more!
Gayla re-awakened the herbalist in me, with “recipes” like these:
homemade herb-infused vinegars
WE WARMED a stainless steel pot of plain white vinegar slightly (no need to boil or make really hot), and I sterilized canning jars meantime by rinsing them and putting them, still wet, on a cookie sheet in a warm oven, about 250 degrees F. Boiling them in a water bath or even running them through the dishwasher (no soap required) would work, too. I’d also prepped the lids by boiling briefly in a saucepan of water.
For my blend I chose nasturtium blossoms, but other students in the class made mixtures such as tarragon and lemon peel, or basil (such as Gayla’s favorites ‘Blue Spice,’ ‘African Blue, or ‘Thai’). ‘Opal’ basil would tinge the vinegar pink, as would purple-leaf shiso, or Perilla frutescens. Garlic or hot peppers would complement various herb choices; think of flavor combinations you like, and would like in, say, salad dressing later.
Gayla stuffs up to a cup of basil (stems included) in a cup of vinegar in the jar, pours the warm vinegar over, and lets it stand at room temperature a few days or up to a week, then strains to remove the solids. Decant the flavored and/or tinted liquid into a pretty bottle that you’ve sterilized first, and store in the pantry, or give for gifts.
herb-infused sea salt, or salamoia bolognese
I CANNOT EVEN SAY the Italian first name of this herbed salt, but apparently it means brine or pickle–and olives in some areas are packed with this flavored salt, which combines garlic, rosemary and sage (and sometimes pepper, I’ve read in some places since). Mark Bittman of “The New York Times” wrote some years ago that he keeps a jar of salamoia by the stove and even uses it to salt his pasta water. It’s pricey to buy ready-made, but fast and easy to make:
Per half-cup of sea salt (Gayla prefers coarse-style, but it’s your choice), simply use the food processor to pulse a clove of garlic to a fine chop, then add a tablespoon of sage leaves and 2 tablespoons of rosemary leaves, and pulse again. Pulse the salt in to mix the ingredients thoroughly, then spread the mix on a baking sheet for a day or so to let the herbs in the mix dry a bit before packing into clean jars.
Salamoia bolognese would be great as a rub on meat, on roasted potatoes or other vegetables–or just to open up and stick your nose into as an antidote to a winter day, I expect. Keeping one on hand for just that duty–as “smelling salts” to revive me when the days grow short!
MORE IDEAS like these are in Gayla’s books, including the herb-packed “Easy Growing” and “Grow Great Grub,” as well as in her new one all about beverages, “Drinking the Summer Garden.” You can always find her at You Grow Girl, the website she founded nearly 13 years ago (!!!). Besides all the inspiration, she also left behind a literal gift: a jar of pickled green cherry tomatoes, with a big sticker on top in fluorescent orange type saying: “HOT!” She says they’re great in cocktails, for instance, and here they are:
spicy pickled green cherry tomatoes
THE GIFT (above) reminded me that I used to use my refrigerator pickle recipe on green tomatoes, too, years ago–an easy way to use some of the small ones up. Gayla’s got more ideas for preserving and cooking with green tomatoes (if you can’t get them to ripen one of these ways). Thanks, You Grow Girl, for reminding me of all the goodness in the garden’s little things.