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. karen b says:

    I use canning jars for EVERYTHING, especially now that I have reusable lids. Not doing much large-batch canning this summer, but I’ve made a few small batches of dilly beans and various fruit jams (my fave was a black velvet apricot/honey jam), and I’ve been using jars to store single servings of cold brew coffee for iced coffee.

  2. Karen Jones says:

    I use canning jars for preserving fruits and veg, storage of herbs and herbal salts and sugars, and gifting of the same:)

  3. Heidi says:

    This year has been a bit crazy with a move to a different state, so the only canning has been some strawberry-rhubarb jam (with a hint of clove!). This fall we hopefully can can the over-abundance of veggies and make lots of pickles, chutneys, and many more jams!

  4. Nicole Moore says:

    Quick-pickled red onions are my favorite use of canning jars. I’m planning to try preserving herbs this year, too!

  5. I love canning jars! I have all shapes, ages, and sizes and use them for tons of stuff (sometimes even canning) but lately I’ve really been loving my half-gallon mason jars. Every week I buy 2 one-gallon jars of raw Jersey milk from some friends down the road, and transferring them to half gallon jars (after skimming off the cream!) makes pouring, etc. so much easier. The half gallon jars are also the the perfect size for making fresh mint sun tea. Thanks for the giveaway and please count me in – I’ve been lusting after some Weck jars for years. :)

  6. Sue says:

    Yummy refrigerator pickles. This year, I’m adding Sweet Heat peppers to kick it up a notch. Wouldn’t all that green ‘n red look terrific shining through those pretty Weck jars? :)

  7. MJ says:

    Nectarines grown in my garden were canned as Nectarine perserves! Yummy!
    I learned that there is no need to use pectin to can Nectarines if you leave the skin on~

  8. nance says:

    I use them to can tomatoes and pickles. I use them to put dry grains in. I use them to store cooked beans and leftovers and use them for storage jars in the fridge because the plastic containers literally gross me out. I use them for storage for any number of things, food or otherwise. I love them.

  9. Kaye says:

    I have used canning jars for chive blossom vinegar this year and last week canned blueberry-nectarine jam and ginger peach jam.

  10. DonnaLee Lane says:

    I have a variety of canning jars. They will be pressed into service this year as I make homemade piccalilli, salsa, dilly beans, sweet pickle slices, 5-pepper jelly, pear jam and whatever else I can make from what’s in the garden or on sale at the farmer’s market. I also use the jars to store dry beans, salt, peppercorns and all manner of dry herbs. I especially love the Weck jars — they look great on display. Since I give away a lot of the items I can as gifts, my supply sometimes gets low. A few more Weck jars would be most welcome.

  11. Jane McVey says:

    I use them for my wonderful homemade organic strawberry jam made with strawberries from the Truckee, Ca. Farmers Market; and also amazing bread and butter pickles. I put homemade granola in them, soup to share with my family, and many food and household uses. My daughter does not like to use plastic for her family, so she uses them for storage of pasta, nuts, etc.
    I get them at my local hardware store in all sizes.

  12. Becly Beverly says:

    Enjoy the newsletter. Have been pulling u ragweed and now learning other weeds that are causing me big problems in the garden. Thanks

  13. Esla says:

    I’ll be honest, I’ve not done much canning… But it is high on my to-do list. I am so motivated by all of these posts to get started. Right now, I love to use them to hold my freshly picked flowers. They are my go-to casual vase and look so homey and sweet.

  14. Susy says:

    I pickle eggplant and green tomatoes. I make a few jars of jelly as well, tomatoes are made into sauce but I usually freeze that. I also use jars to make salad dressings and for storing dried herbs.. I would love to have these jars!

  15. Holly says:

    I use them everywhere: canning/freezing, leftovers in fridge, beans, rice, etc. in large jars, q-tips and cotton balls, flower vase, outside drinking glasses. Every size, wide and small mouth. No plastic!

  16. Patricia says:

    I use them for crackers, popcorn, granola, leftovers, homemade jams, sauces, you name it. Also for hair ties and bobby pins, sample size toiletries for guests, cotton pads, and so on.

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