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. Susanna says:

    I use canning jars to save herbs from my garden, for homemade jams and to hold my butterscotch sauce and toffee when I give them for gifts. My kitchen cupboards are filled with larger canning jars that hold cereals, rice, pasta, etc.

  2. Karen says:

    All of my pantry staples – sugar, flour, nuts etc. are stored on open shelves in my kitchen. I use them for drinking glasses and coffee cups. Vases for fresh flowers, especially zinnias. I store leftovers in them. I freeze berries, herbs and other garden goodies and store them in my freezer.

  3. Shannon Marmolejo says:

    Outside of jarring food, we use them for drinking glasses and I have three small jars by my desk holding pens, pencils and sharpies :)

  4. Amy says:

    I use canning jars for so many things – nuts, quick pickles, dried beans, seeds, canned tomatoes, pickles, etc, etc. Thanks for the contest opportunity!

  5. Elizabeth B says:

    I have used canning jars as decorations and gift packaging, but this year I want to try to actually CAN with them! Hopefully making some jam…

  6. Sara says:

    I like to use canning jars for canning fruits and veggies and for holding dry goods. So far this season I have canned peaches, figs, fig syrup and refrigerator pickles!

  7. Betsy says:

    it’s almost easier to say what I DON’T use canning jars for.
    Store all the herbs I grow (dill, coriander, thyme, sage, savory) in my oldest glass canning jars with the glass lids.
    Jams include gingered peach, blueberry, golden raspberry and cherry.
    Lots of chutneys.
    Bread and butter pickles and onions.
    Dilly beans, beets,
    Oh, also roasted corn. I don’t put a lid on that jar because it doesn’t last long!
    In the freezer, just vegetable soups.

  8. Delores says:

    I make lots of jam of different flavors, marinara sauce and homemade ketchup. Also dill pickles and pickled beets. I use jars for pasta,popcorn, nuts and flour storage. Sure hope I win, would love one of the Weck jars.

  9. Jai says:

    **great for storing bulk bought pasta and legumes
    ** i salted down some lemons as an experiment
    * pickled garlic
    *feta cheese in olive oil (add some spices to enhance both the cheese and the oil)if you throw in some kalamatie olives, it colors your cheese for a different look on a plate

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