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. Evee M says:

    I use them for soap dispensers with lids I purchased from Etsy. I froze fresh apple cider in them last week and I keep all my pantry dry goods in them—a habit I started when I needed my pantry to be 100% mouse-proof.

  2. Mary says:

    So far, i’ve made blackberry sauce for ice cream and used them for dry pasta or bean storage. But this year, my first garden! I can’t wait to get into it!

  3. Gene Schaefer says:

    Lots of different things: fast pickles, leftover homemade salsas or other sauces, and actual canning at times like when those fresh WNY peaches are irresistible along the way on drives from Buffalo back to NJ in August. Oh, and of course random hardware, marbles, wine corks, small stones picked up from various beaches we’ve visited…

  4. Gene Schaefer says:

    Lots of things: fast pickles, leftover salsas and sauces, and actual canning like WNY peaches picked up at a farm stand on the drive back to NJ from Buffalo at their peak in August. And of course, random hardware, marbles, wine corks, small stones from beaches we’ve visited…

  5. Gene Schaefer says:

    Lots of things: fast pickles, leftover salsas and sauces, and actual canning like WNY peaches picked up at a farm stand on the drive back to NJ from Buffalo at their peak in August. And of course, random hardware, marbles, wine corks, small stones from beaches we’ve visited…

  6. Carolyn says:

    I make pepper jelly every summer and use it for appetizers all year. It makes a nice gift to bring as house warming or hostess gift.

  7. kathny says:

    As I mentioned on Gayla’s blog, I use them for so many things. All kinds of food processing – jams, pickles, soups, salad dressings, etc. I use them in my bathroom for cotton balls, soaps, bandages, Qtips, and things like that. Sewing supplies like pins and buttons fit in them easily and they are perfect for crafting items. I have jars full of seashells, sand, buttons and all kinds of crafting supplies. I use them as vases for cut flowers, my kids use them for drinking glasses and to-go cups, and I started using a large one for a blender pitcher when mine broke. The mouth of the jar fits on the base of the blender pitcher so now I use it like one of those Magic Bullet blenders. Very useful for remixing things I have stored in them, like salad dressings. I also have an old light fixture with screw in glass shades that I might replace with mason jars! I think that would look pretty interesting!

  8. Jenny says:

    My jars get used for all sorts of things – preserving foods (I’ve made roasted salsa and dill pickles this week), transporting drinks to work, storing change, making homemade red wine vinegar, holding my collection of knitting needles, etc., etc.

  9. Teresa Sopher says:

    I love a good canning jar – I collect old or unusual glass jars. They are scattered all around the house and in the pantry. Would love to add this jar style to the mix.

  10. Rebecca C says:

    I freeze leftovers, chicken and vegetable stock in the canning jars. This week stored some rose water in one too. Started using their juice jars too!

  11. Livvie says:

    So far this year canned tomatos, chow chow, pickled beets, dill pickles, squash pickles, fig jam, blueberry butter & pickled okra, and haven’t finished yet. I store just about everything in canning jars. One of the most eco frendly items you can use. Love them!!

  12. Donna says:

    freezing beans!! first time planting half-runners and they are producing large quantities. My mom wanted me to plant them; we are from WV, but now live in OH.

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