herb salts and vinegars: preserving tips with gayla trail

Preserving ideas in canning jars, with Gayla TrailTHE HARVEST IS FINALLY ACCELERATING, which got me thinking about a tool that’s as critical to success right about now as my mower and spade: the perfect canning jar. One morning this week, over a cup of tea on Skype with my friend Gayla Trail a.k.a. You Grow Girl, we ended up having an entire conversation about them, in fact. Bottom line: neither of us knows how we could live without them! The conversation a radio podcast full of her preserving tips.

From her Toronto garden and local farm markets, Gayla Trail has long captured bits of the harvest in glass–dried, frozen, fermented, hot-packed, you name it. Both of us have a bit of a canning-jar fetish, and collect old ones and new ones alike. Irresistible!

prefer the podcast?

GAYLA TRAIL was the guest on the latest edition of my weekly public-radio show and podcast. Listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio’s three stations on Monday at 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. It is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The August 12, 2013 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marked the start of its fourth year in March, and is syndicated via PRX.

frozen chives in a Weck jar
WE MADE A LIST together of some uses (the links will tell you more about each possibility).

canning-jar uses

  • As a “to-go” container (bring your morning coffee, or lunch along in one)
  • Freeze nuts (prevents them going rancid), or coffee beans, and flour (again, all with last longer than in the pantry if frozen)
  • Freeze soups, chili, tomato sauce and so on, instead of in plastic
  • Store homemade flavored liquers or flavored vodkas, such as this Dianthus-infused vodka from You Grow Girl. (Gayla puts these concoctions in the freezer before use.)
  • Freeze chopped chives (small Weck jars are great for this; photo above); spoon out what you need later. How to freeze all your herbs.
  • Freeze a portion of your garlic harvest as whole, peeled cloves, tossed lightly in oil first. How to freeze garlic and other alliums.
  • Freeze a portion of your onion harvest, chopped and tossed lightly in oil
  • Store dried herb leaves (such as sage, mint, lemon balm, and more) in them
  • Store frozen pesto cubes of various herbs (first formed in ice-cube trays, then knocked out into the jars for longer storage in the freezer)
  • Make pickles, whether my refrigerator dills, or hot-packed bread-and-butter sweet ones
  • Pack herbed salts in them (get the recipes for Salamoia Bolognese, with garlic, rosemary and sage, or for lavender-infused salt)
  • We didn’t even include non-food uses, for storing everything from paper clips and thumb tacks to screws and rubber bands.

drying herbs before storing in jars

‘MOST HERBS are fine being hung to dry, in bunches,” says Gayla, who only uses a dehydrator instead when she’s in a hurry, or with certain thicker produce. For instance, she recently dried her too-much-to-use fresh harvest of Egyptian onions—which by the way, will make your house quite pungent-smelling, she reports.

Rose petals in the dehydrator, on the other hand, are quite lovely to live with.  Here’s how she does them (and then packs them into glass canning jars). This is where those hinged-top old-style jars that are no longer safe for actual canning are just fine—and add a certain charm to the pantry shelf, too.

With herbs, keep the leaves (or petals or flowers) as intact and whole as possible, not crumbled, when putting them in the jars after drying so they retain as much flavor as possible. Gayla dries lots of mint and lemon balm—two herbs she uses often all year—this way, along with other leafy things.

What about all those leftover stems? Gayla sets them aside and adds them to scraps of onion and other vegetable peelings and bits when she makes stock.  Waste nothing!

Another way she dries herbs: laying them in large, low open tray-like baskets. This is great for things that aren’t easy to bundle up and hang, such as linden flowers (one of her favorites).

how to win the weck jars

THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO WIN one of two $25 gift certificate from Kaufmann Mercantile to put toward the Weck canning jars of your choice–one on my website, and one on You Grow Girl’s. [UPDATE: THE GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.] (You can see the jars here on the Kaufmann site.) Be sure to comment in both places to double your chances.

All you have to do to enter is answer this question in the comments box below:

What do you use canning jars for, and are you preserving anything in them — frozen, dried, or “canned” — this harvest season?

No answer, or feeling shy? That’s fine; just say “Count me in” or something similar, and we will. Two winners–one on each of our websites–werechosen at random after entries closed at midnight on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.

  1. Teresa says:

    I use the jars for lots of things! Flower vases, storing dried herbs, freezing soups all winter, canning tomatoes and pickles, packaging a kit project at our annual quilt retreat, giving gifts, water glass when i am gardening, jam, and taking our favorite cocktails on the boat!

  2. Barbara says:

    Had an over abundance of white half runner beans this year. Have been buying canning jars, and could use a few more.

  3. Casey says:

    I use canning jars to hold dry goods like noodles as well as dried lavender flowers, nails, screws and bits and bobs, tea lights and safety pins.

    1. nance says:

      Edith, how exactly do you freeze tomatoes? I would like to do that but don’t know the instructions. Thanks for any information.

  4. Nichole says:

    I use canning jars for everything & have a very large collection. Let’s just say my husband wasn’t too excited last year when I bought another 10 large boxes of canning jars at an auction :)

    All of my dried pantry staples, spices, dehdrated goods, etc live in canning jars and I use them for freezing & canning too.

  5. Pamela Rose says:

    Just went to the website…these jars look fantastic!
    This will be my first year for canning.
    I have always dried or froze everything before.
    I even froze soups and chili in canning jars till I had a couple break :-(
    Thanks for this contest to win Weck jars

  6. marcia joslyn says:

    Ratatouile-the best way to use up many tomatoes and squash and/or peppers. Plus lot of Basil. Very easy to hot pack. and use with rice or pasta or in soups and stews. Freezes well too, but I like it in jars- it is beautiful and makes a nice little gift.

  7. C. Smialek says:

    We make chutney, jams, preserve tomatoes and make pickles. I’m still hoping to pick some more blueberries and to make some batches of jam.

  8. Malea Cooper says:

    I use canning jars to make refrigerator pickles mainly. But I also use them as vases, to hold marinades and dressings, we even drink out of them I just prefer their simple beauty and all around usefulness.

  9. Margot C says:

    I have become insane about canning things. I love it. I make jams and jellies and the cranberry sauce with orange that I made for Thanksgiving and Christmas tables was pretty well liked (and pretty enough in a Weck jar to just go to the table).

  10. Tina says:

    Last year I started to grow herbs and tried to hang up to dry but that was not easy. Have to keep an eye on it and tighten ties. Got messy with dried leaves so putting in baskets sounds great. Thanks for the tips.

  11. Edda Tallard says:

    One lesson I have learned throughout my decades of gardening is that I am better off concentrating on items I cannot buy during the plentiful growing season. So, I grow Armenian cucumbers (beautifully crunchy and dryer than normal ones) , Pouch tomatoes, Cornell plums, Italian plums, grapes I cannot get commercially, apples that actually still taste like apples… Herbs, especially Marjoram and Tarragon, I mix with salt and some commercial spices – friends tell me they could eat cardboard if ‘my’ salt was on it. Gardening involves a lot of time, money and effort – spend them well.

  12. Deb says:

    I use canning jars all the time, and have been using some of the same ones for 50 years! I use them for canning jams and pickled jalapeños and zucchini. I store my half sour pickles that I keep in the frig in them. I use them to store my grains in my cabinets. I make and store cold brew coffee directly in them. I store my coffee beans in jars. I put various cooking sauces that I make into canning jars for for storage, and can see at a glance what I ‘ve got. Leftover chicken or vegetable stock, I pop in a glass jar and label with the date. I will occasionally make preserved lemons and store them in a large canning jar. Because I have been making a concerted effort to avoid storing foods in plastic, I have found my canning jars to be my go-to item. I inherited lots from my mother-in -law who did a lot of “putting up” and from my own past canning experiences. I confess, I. also use our large collection of Bonne Maman jars for the same purposes!

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