Photo | Provided
By Melissa Wold, Mobile County Master Gardener | MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org
Due to “stay at home,” “shelter in place” and “social distancing” orders, many of us have turned to our gardens. Gardening has given us a purpose and a diversion from the abnormality of the “new normal.” We have planted flowers, trees, vegetables and herbs. We have taken on our urban oases, reminiscent of victory gardens.
We have reaped what we have sown. This holiday season is a great time to share the fruits of our labor. Say goodbye to Black Friday shopping and online markets, and create homemade gifts from your backyard bounties.
Did you grow herbs? Then you have a treasure trove of gift possibilities. Dried herbs can be blended into various mixes, perfect for meat rubs and seasoning packets. Add dried flowers to your herbs to create unique sachets.
Drying herbs is easy and inexpensive. Herbs with low moisture content — like dill, oregano, rosemary, summer savory and thyme — are best for drying. A paper lunch bag is the ideal “drying room.” After gathering your stems, remove any diseased or yellowed leaves. Shake the branches to remove any unwanted insects or excess soil. The herbs can then be rinsed in cold water and patted dry to remove any clinging dirt. Spread them out to dry any excess water.
Remove and set aside the lower leaves from the stem. Bundle four to six stems and tie with string or use a rubber band. Don’t forget to label your paper bag and punch holes in it to ensure air circulation. Place the bundles upside down in the bag and throw in those loose leaves. Securely close the bag with string wrapped tightly around the stems and the mouth of the bag. Hang them upside down in a warm, airy space. Check your herbs after two weeks. They are ready to use once dry enough to crumble. Store them whole in airtight containers.
Mix dried oregano, basil, thyme, sage and rosemary to create a delicious Italian seasoning blend. Put the mixture into a small glass jar. Add a package of pasta and your favorite sauce recipe and it will be a gift enjoyed by family and friends.
What did Peter Piper do with his peck of peppers? Dried them, of course, and made a chili pepper salt blend. Hanging peppers to dry is easy and adds color to pantries and kitchen corners. These peppers can hang until you are ready to use them. Peppers can also be oven-dried or you can use a food dehydrator. If oven-drying, it is best to halve or quarter the peppers. Also, avoid using your oven for a couple of days afterward because the scent and flavor of the peppers will linger.
For the salt blend, start with kosher salt. Kosher salt’s flakes are larger than table salt’s grains and hold up to being ground with the peppers. Begin with a ratio of 1 teaspoon of dried minced peppers to 1/4 cup salt. Using either a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or a food processor, mix well but do not pulverize the salt. Increase pepper to taste.
To gift, either place in a jar or salt grinder. Add a bow and a recipe. This blend is great on roasted sweet potatoes, in hummus or on avocado toast.
Fruit trees are a great resource for holiday gifts. Kumquats, pears, plums, oranges, figs — all make wonderful jams, jellies and marmalades. Find Grandma’s favorite recipe and start stewing. Place a Mason jar of jam in a basket with a bag of scones or a loaf of bread. Add a festive kitchen towel. Wouldn’t your friends love to find that gift on their doorstep rather than another Amazon box?
It is truly the season of giving. What better gift than one grown with love and shared with family and friends? You may even want to set out a scone smothered in fig preserves for the Jolly Ole One.
For Your Calendar:
What: Mobile County Master Gardener Greenery Sale,
Gulf Coast Herb Society, Mobile Botanical Gardens Holiday Market
-Wednesday, Dec. 2 and Thursday, Dec. 3 (1-3 p.m.)
-Friday, Dec. 4 (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
-Saturday, Dec. 5 (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile
What: Bellingrath Gardens Fall Events
Where: 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore
– Christmas Lights at Bellingrath, Nov. 27 – Dec. 31, 5-9 p.m.
For more info: bellingrath.org
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