June 18, 2013 by Sara Kreidler
Summer is really upon us; the kids are on summer break, Toby has resumed his post as grill master, Dilly is spending a lot of time sitting at the open windows and barking at everything that moves, and I’m swamped with various green things from the CSA and our garden. Today I will receive the third CSA box of the season, along with 2 flats (that’s 16 dry quarts) of strawberries which I will turn into jam over the next 48 hours (I plan to post about that next week, but here’s last year’s strawberry jam post if you’re about to be up to your ears in strawberry stickiness too). But before I return to my canning pot, I want to share two quick and easy ways to put up some of the early summer excess for later use without heating up your kitchen with a boiling canning pot.
Drying herbs is one of the easiest ways to put food up for later use. If you’re lucky enough to have a food dehydrater you can certainly use it here, but I use a very low-tech method: drying herbs on a plastic placemat (a cutting board, paper plate, clean newsprint or a piece of craft paper would all work well too).
I dried a bunch of flat leaf parsley and a bunch of cilantro by simply plucking the leaves from the stems and spreading them out on the placemat. I left the herbs undisturbed for a few days on the dining table, until the leaves were totally dry and crunchy. Then I transferred the dried herbs to small, labeled plastic bags for future use (you could grind or crumble your dried herbs at this point if you wish, but I just bagged and tagged them for the time being). This same process works well for other herbs — rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, basil, etc.
In the first two weeks of the CSA, I received 4 enormous bundles of rhubarb. We used some to make rhubarb and red lentil daal, a favorite meal of ours this time of year, but still had a ton of stalks left over. There are lots of delicious recipes out there for jams and desserts featuring rhubarb, but really I wanted to preserve the rhubarb bounty for later in the year, to make more daal, so I froze it. Freezing rhubarb is very simple, and then you’ll have a stash of the tart stalks ready to use in whatever rhubarb recipes you fancy.
First give your rhubarb a good rinse, then cut off and discard (or compost) the end tips (which are usually a bit dried out and gnarly looking). Now, one of the things about freezing rhubarb to keep in mind is that when you thaw it, it will become a bit mushy. I don’t find this to be a problem since rhubarb gets mushy anyway when cooked, whether in a daal or a cobbler, but it does mean that it will be difficult to chop the rhubarb once thawed. So, you want to chop your rhubarb before freezing to the size you will need for your future recipe(s). For my daal, I just need the rhubarb cut into chunks as seen in the photo above, but if you plan to use the rhubarb for muffins, lets say, you will want to cut it into a smaller dice.
At this point, some people like to spread the chopped rhubarb out on a wax-paper lined baking sheet with a rim and freeze it, and then transfer the individually frozen rhubarb pieces to plastic freezer bags/containers. I skip that step and just put the chopped rhubarb straight into bags and pop them into the freezer, because I don’t see any big advantage to having the rhubarb pieces not frozen into a clump (again, it is mushy when thawed, and mushy when cooked). Either way you choose to do it, you should put into each bag the amount of rhubarb you will need for a given recipe so that you don’t thaw more or less than you actually need.
Alright friends, what are you putting up this early in the summer? Got other great uses for rhubarb? Freezing and drying tips? Lay it on me in the comments.